Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind
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Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  276 ratings  ·  64 reviews
From one of the world’s leading natural scientists and the acclaimed author of Trilobite!, Life: A Natural History of Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1 comes a fascinating chronicle of life’s history told not through the fossil record but through the stories of organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, throughout time. Evolution, it seems, h...more
Hardcover, 332 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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Max Carmichael
What a pleasure to read a book about evolution that was written with such humility and respect for non-human life! Fortey acknowledges and furthers the legacy of Lynn Margulis and gets in some subtle digs against the overweening patriarch of evolutionary science, Richard Dawkins. Fortey's rambling, self-effacing style of storytelling, and his avoidance of pedantic advocacy, underscore the fact that evolution is just another creation myth, albeit an entertaining one. The legend is best told by pe...more
Barbara
This is a review of the Kindle edition which, of course, has teeny black and white images. I imagine the hard copy version is lavishly and colourfully illustrated.

Richard Fortey writes about his encounters with creatures whose ancient origins are not difficult to discern in the fossil record. The renowned palaeontologist travels widely in pursuit of these survivors - thrillingly for me, describing several encounters in my little corner of the planet.

I found myself having to concentrate uncomfor...more
Steve Van Slyke
Feb 03, 2013 Steve Van Slyke rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Fortey Fans, fossil & evolution lovers
Shelves: geology, kindle, evolution
I believe the British title of the book was "Survivors," which is a much better encapsulation of what the book is about, namely those forms of extant life that are far down on the tree of life, and therefore long term survivors, with very little evolutionary change over huge spans of time and yet having the ability to adapt to a myriad of changes in their environment.

Fortey tells the story of these creatures in the form of a travelogue as he wanders the globe to see in person not only the title...more
Mark Fallon
How many books by a paleontologist can make you laugh? How many books on science and evolution contain references to Edward Scissorhands and Piglet? For me, the answer is one – Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms.

Richard Fortey tracks down animals that closely resemble the fossils of their ancestors from 50 million, 100 million, a billion years ago. From the titular animals to bacteria that form on the edge of geyser springs, these “living fossils” help us better understand how life has developed...more
Heather
Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms (which was originally published by HarperCollins in the UK in 2011, as Survivors) was an extraordinarily slow read for me, though I'm not sure how much I can blame the book for that. I started reading it while I was in England for work, which meant I started it at a time when I didn't have my normal twice-a-day subway ride as built-in reading time. Then I was back from England, but it was the week of Thanksgiving: a short work week, a last-minute trip to the Phil...more
Elizabeth K.
This book had me hooked from the acknowledgements, in which the author sincerely, personally, and also succinctly thanked a wide range of his friends and colleagues all over the world who had assisted with various aspects of his research and travels. Reading it makes you realize this is the NICEST MAN IN THE WORLD. And he's English, so I imagine he's even nicer if he doesn't like you, because he feels he should make up for it. This made me realize that my only goal in this life or any other is t...more
Doug Clark
I recently finished an excellent book by Dr. Richard Fortey, a British paleontologist who specializes in the study of trilobites, an extinct class of arthropods. Fortey is the author of several books on fossils and the age of life including Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth, Trilobites! Witness to Evolution, Earth: An Intimate History among others. His new book is Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants that Time Has Left Behin...more
Bill Leach
Good story on some of the survivors of ancient lineages that are still living today.

Start
Ma BP Era Period

0 Quaternary Holocene
1.64 Pleistocene
5.2 Tertiary Pliocene
23 Miocene
34 Oligocene
56 Eocene
65 Palaocene
145 Mesozoic Cretaceeous
- first mammals
- Archaeopteryx
- flowering plants
199 Jurrassic
- Gnetophyta - Welwitschia
- montremes
251 Triassic
- Araucarias - monkey puzzle, Wollemi
299 Upper Palaeozoic Permian
359 Carboniferous
- ferns, cycads, ginkgos
- first reptiles
416 Devonian
- fish & amp...more
Bill Leach
Good story on some of the survivors of ancient lineages that are still living today.

Start
Ma BP Era Period

0 Quaternary Holocene
1.64 Pleistocene
5.2 Tertiary Pliocene
23 Miocene
34 Oligocene
56 Eocene
65 Palaocene
145 Mesozoic Cretaceeous
- first mammals
- Archaeopteryx
- flowering plants
199 Jurrassic
- Gnetophyta - Welwitschia
- montremes
251 Triassic
- Araucarias - monkey puzzle, Wollemi
299 Upper Palaeozoic Permian
359 Carboniferous
- ferns, cycads, ginkgos
- first reptiles
416 Devonian
- fish & amp...more
Hadrian
A fascinating and reverent tour of a niche of certain type of organism - those that have changed little from their distant ancestors some hundreds of millions of years ago.

This really is a tour, with velvet worms, and gingko trees, and the horseshoe crabs of the Atlantic coast, the three-BILLION year old stromatolites, which bubbled oxygen into our atmosphere, the multicolored bacteria of Yellowstone, and every fascinating little thing in between.

So what does it take for an organism to survive s...more
Nick
I gave this latest exploration of our planet's past, present and future by Richard Fortey three stars because it felt a bit programmatic, less spontaneous, than other of his books I have read. I am being unfair to Fortey, because like his other books, this one is well-written, almost poetry in some passages, and fascinating. He writes a kinder, gentler brief for evolution by focusing on species that seem from the fossil record to have survived unchanged for millions of years and discussing ways...more
Batesharbuck
I learned a lot about evolution and geologic time. At points his writing got a bit scientific and too detailed, but then he would throw in a typically dry British bit of humor.
Christopher
No Such Thing As "Living Fossil"

I guess I'm stuck on natural history books written by:

1.)British
2.)Dotty
3.)Humorous
4.)Pedantic

authors, cuz' this fits right in. An account of many organisms on this planet that have survived the trials and tribulations of history to still thrive in the present day. He gets a bit preachy near the end, as he recounts our current human-driven wave of extinctions, but it's to be expected. I love how Fortey imbues his narrative with the sense that everything lives and...more
Andrea Hickman Walker
Either I'm easily fascinated, or I have incredibly astute taste in reading material. I seem to be describing every second book as fascinating. And this one is no different. Perhaps I just pick books about things I find fascinating.

This particular book is about species that have survived mass extinctions and the passage of millions of years. Not unchanged, obviously, but clearly still the same creature that was alive so very, very long ago. Like I said, fascinating. So many creatures I'd never he...more
Clare
Taking a look at some plants and animals who trace their antecedents back millions of years, Richard Fortey marvels us with details of the flora and fauna themselves and the journeys he takes to view some of the rarest lifeforms. He also peppers the text with some soft humor, making this a most enjoyable read. Whether it was a matter of having a long lifespan, a fairly sedentary life, or just being at the proper place when catastrophe struck, all the creatures and plants whose stories are in thi...more
Matt
This a great book for whiling away an afternoon or two - fun to read and the format lends itself to beach reading. It is the stories of essentially survivors from the past - animals and plants that evolved to their present form tens of millions of years ago, finding their niche and being lucky enough for that niche to still exist somewhere. Fortey also uses his selections to tell a history of geological time - essentially his "Life" book (review coming soon) from a more light-hearted angle. In f...more
Marty
This book is amazing. It examines a number of species that have survived various extinctions in the past. The author's writing exudes his affection for the plants, animals, bacteria, etc. that have survived millions or even billions of years. I found myself interested in the history of tiny sea creatures, sponges, ginko trees- an incredible variety of organisms that have their roots far back in time. He ends with a plea to extend our protection to these species, arguing that their long history o...more
Michelle Jones
I really enjoyed this book. The writing was good, and the information was fascinating. Richard Fortey details the lives of many "primitive" life forms that still exist today, and ties them back to prehistoric creatures, showing how varied evolutionary processes can be.

To be honest, I wasn't sure how exciting a book about such "simple" creatures could be, but Fortey's enthusiasm keeps up interest even in the most minuscule of species. He presents many creatures I have never even heard of, and ma...more
Michael
A beautifully written book by a scientist who writes like a fiction or travel writer. Chapters are "Bio"graphies of plants and animals that have clear ancestors millions of years old. Not exactly a page turner, but beautifully written--something I'll probably read again some day. Wish I had bought the hard copy instead of the e-book cause there are pictures that don't look so good on a Kindle.

The book says there have been six disasters where most of the plants and animals on the planet have died...more
David Canon
An interesting biology book focusing largely on invertebrates - my favorite. This is a book that spans the evolution of life on Earth from the Precambrian to present, bringing special attention to organisms that have remained relatively the same for a long ass time. Heavy material, the book is only about 300 pages but took me months to read at a leisurely pace. There is just a lot of information in here, and if you are reading it for pleasure then you will want to take your time with it. This gu...more
Corinna Bechko
This is the third Richard Fortey book I've read, and like the others it's top-notch science writing. The author unravels the life histories of life forms great and small, allowing us to discover what makes each of them special and to marvel at how deep into the history of life on earth each of them roots. This book is for anyone interested in ecology, paleontology, or even conservation. One can't but feel awestruck when contemplating even the simplest of these organisms with Fortey as their guid...more
Daniel Farabaugh
Whew. This was a difficult read. It was dense and very science heavy. I had to take breaks from it and read other books. The author truly knows his stuff and has a very compelling narrative. Especially in the earlier time periods when he is discussing the various types of bacteria I had to stuggle to follow in places. But I am very glad that I finished the book as it came to a very satisfying conclusion and it became much eaiser to follow when discussing more complex organisms.
Meghan Tracy
To be honest, I didn't finish this book, but that had more to do with everything else I was reading and less to do this this. It's a little slow, I'll grant you. The author does blather on a bit in a way that left me with the utter conviction that he must be British. However, as a bit of a biology nerd, I found this book to be lovely. Sure you have to dig for the pieces that are enjoyable, but when does one really get to read about Archea post-college?
Jamie Gaughran-Perez
Among the best science writers I've read -- from a writing standpoint (especially once you forgive his love of an extended vocab / thesaurus). The subject matter of this book makes for a great romp through the history of life on the planet and will reset a good number of scientific concepts that have grown and matured I the past couple decades since I was in school. Great stuff -- I'm glad this book occupied a space in my year of rediscovering non-fiction.
Bob Peake
An excellent book, written in a very conversational, forthright manner. Learned a lot of really interesting things, giving me a greater appreciation of a variety of living things!

The book would be improved if the photos were placed within the appropriate areas of the text, rather than all at the end. This is especially difficult with an e-reader. Instead, I would look up the various animals/plants under discussion in Wikipedia, which worked quite well.
William Vann


Very enjoyable read if you like delving deep into the science of an evolving planet. I will say that I was glad to be reading this on my I-pad as I was able to electronically switch back and forth to research and clarify for myself much of the paleontology and geology central to the theme. I have read Dawkins, Gould, and Krauss without too much independent research but this was a bit more interactive. I will be downloading more from this author.
Michael
A great book that gives credit to many types of living creatures that have withstood the test of time. Although the author does a good job describing his jaunts to find these animals his references to the different prehistoric time periods they fell under was hard for me to keep straight.

This is totally random, but on the last page that talks about the typeface of the words, if you are from Lancaster, PA you will enjoy it. :)
David R.
Once one gets past Fortey's writing style -- it's a little too dry and his thoughts wander too much -- there's some fascinating material on a wide range of species which have endured for many millions of years. Fortey visits examples in all of the kingdoms: plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, etc., and does have passion for these obscure creatures. But take time first to adjust to this eccentric naturalist.
Carl-Eric
Very interesting journey across the world, looking at species that have seen a lot and are still with us. As usual, Fortey adds his own personal touch with anecdotes of his travels and experiences. Not quite as amazing as Dawkins' "Ancestors' Tale", but still highly recommended. That comparison may not be entirely fair, since it is a somewhat different type of book. Just read both :-)
Ray
This is an obscure little book. It deals with the animals and plants that evolution has left behind - survivors from mass extinctions and relic populations living in niche environments.

I found this an excellent book, full of facts, quaint observations and written with a jaunty style - I had feared that it might be a dry academic book but certainly not
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Richard Fortey is a senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was Collier Professor in the Public Understanding of Science and Technology at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Bristol in 2002. His books have been widely acclaimed: Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth (Knopf) was short...more
More about Richard Fortey...
Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum Earth: An Intimate History The Hidden Landscape: A Journey into the Geological Past

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“I confess that the idea of taking off one's boots in a howling squall to safeguard fossils that had survived since the Precambrian had its funny side.” 3 likes
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