Subtitled: Eyewitness to Evolution
With his new book Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution, Richard Fortey confirms his status as one of the best communicators of science around today. His hugely enjoyable previous book, Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth, was shortlisted for the 1998 Rhone-Poulenc science book prize, but Trilobite! is sure to receive even greater acclaim. Whereas Life took the reader on a whistle-stop tour of evolution from start to present–a huge undertaking that necessarily granted little space to each time period or taxonomic group–Trilobite! sees Fortey indulging in a whole book about his overriding paleontological passion, the long extinct and enigmatic creatures of the title. The result is a joy.
Trilobites–woodlicelike creatures that dominated the world’s oceans long before the time of the dinosaurs–are, arguably, the most beautiful animals that have ever been chipped out of the fossil record. Fortey certainly seems to think so. His enthusiastic, almost loving explanations of the anatomy, ecology, and long evolutionary history of these fascinating vanished creatures carry the reader on an inspirational journey into the Earth’s distant past. But the book is much more than a technical treatise on trilobites. We learn about Fortey himself, his formative years as an amateur then professional paleontologist, about his much-loved teachers and colleagues, and above all, about that strange but addictive pastime known as science. You may not find arthropods as charming as Fortey does, but you will not fail to be charmed by the author. A delightful read.