Saturday, July 04, 2009

Book Review: "Trilobite"

Once I'd read Richard Fortey's Dry Storeroom No. 1 (review) I knew I'd be on the lookout for his earlier works. Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution (Vintage, 2001) is the first of those I stumbled across. Fortey, who spent a career studying trilobites, shares his enthusiasm with the fossilized critters, outlining their discovery, biology, habits, geography, you name it. He also offers up a survey of his predecessors in the field of trilobitology (each with their own quirks and foibles, of course), and describes many of the key scientific debates of the 20th century (plate tectonics, punctuated equilibrium, &c.)

Fortey is one of the best active writers of scientific narrative. His sense of humor and obvious enjoyment of his field of study are infectious, and although there are many detailed scientific descriptions and explanations, those never overpowered the narrative (and were fascinating to read). Plus, I greatly respect anyone who can use such delightful words as ruckle, beetling, fusty, boffin and sempiternally, and phrases like cobble of knobbles and pong of putrefacation (look them up, I did).

If you can read this book and not get at least a little itch to go out and crack open some slates looking for trilobites, you've got more will power than me.

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