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

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  673 Ratings  ·  102 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 2011)
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Community Reviews

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aPriL does feral sometimes
I'm not a scientist or even an amateur observer (other than PBS and National Geographic cable TV) of scientific physical studies or natural studies, so I can only be pop-culture expressive. Be warned: expect a review with minimal scientific attitudes.

Horseshoe crabs are awesome. Just saying. However, the foregoing sentence is an example of how scientific I am.

The author is all science correct (if definitely a general-reader - me - approved), and his book, 'Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms', whic
I enjoyed this enough that I've reserved the other books by Richard Fortey that my local library has. He has a somewhat rambling style, though, which might not be to your taste. I enjoyed the ride, in general; in terms of the science, I didn't learn anything I didn't already know, concept-wise, but some of the animals and habitats Fortey described were new to me.

It was quite personal to him, in a way, covering stuff he's particularly interested in and documenting his travels to find these creat
Mark Fallon
Apr 28, 2013 Mark Fallon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Steve Van Slyke
Feb 03, 2013 Steve Van Slyke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fortey Fans, fossil & evolution lovers
Shelves: kindle, geology, 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
Jun 02, 2015 Anie rated it it was amazing

The book's purpose is to examine life---and not in the philosophical way. It leads us through the living world, from cyanobacteria to mammoths, in a beautiful, back-and-forth-in-time journey. There is an immense amount to be learned in here; if you ever were curious about trilobites, or jellyfish, or sulfurophilic bacteria, this book is a fantastic way to suck down a huge amount of information all at once.

To top it off, Fortey is an incredibly gifted writer; this book had
Apr 08, 2012 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Max Carmichael
Aug 12, 2012 Max Carmichael rated it really liked it
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
Corinna Bechko
Apr 19, 2013 Corinna Bechko rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, zoology
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
Jan 18, 2015 Nola rated it really liked it
This would be a good reference book, or maybe a book to read over and over again until committed to memory. The author planned this book carefully based on an obvious lifetime of experience in the field of paleontology. All the preparation was done well before a reader starts the book. There are specific organisms chosen to illustrate how life evolved on the planet, and the author visited most of these in preparation of the book. This makes the descriptions personal and realistic. The author ana ...more
Oct 24, 2014 Wendy rated it really liked it
I've recently found myself caught up in a sort of arm-chair enthusiasm for natural history, especially with regards to the ever-changing biology on the face of this ever-changing earth. When I was about seven, I told all my friends and teachers that I was going to grow up to be a paleontologist, and reading books like these makes me kick myself for not following through. Oh what to give for a time-machine videoscreen where we could watch trilobites in all their nautical glory!

Richard Fortey has
Mar 03, 2012 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 09, 2012 Nick rated it liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
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
Jan 03, 2016 Allison rated it really liked it
Loved it. Fortey, paelontologist and trilobite expert, tells the story of plants and animals that hail from very low on the evolutionary tree of life. There's a patch in the middle that was a bit dry (I found it difficult to get invested in stromatolites), but the beginning and end thirds of the book are absolutely fascinating. I have a newfound and intense love for horseshoe crabs, musk oxen, gingko trees, Welwitschia (look it up), and especially echidnas. This book was fantastic and I definite ...more
Jun 22, 2012 Shadowspawn is currently reading it
So far this is excellent if you're a biology or paleontology geek, which, of course, I am.
Jun 26, 2015 Jessica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

A SLOW read. So slow I feel that I must have started it in a different epoch--I now know what the passing of geologic time feels like. Drier than a fossil dig in New Mexico. Replete with fascinating information but you have to be willing to uncover it like a paleontologist with her hand brush.

Yet another book wanting for better editing. There is a terrific book in there somewhere; it just needed to be polished. I did not enjoy reading this book but I truly enjoyed so much of the information i
Elizabeth K.
Mar 05, 2013 Elizabeth K. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013-new-reads
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
Three stars for my personal opinion, four stars for the content and writing.

This is a case of me deliberately reading something out of my comfort zone, something that I knew I'd have to work through, as an effort to branch out and expand my horizons. I'm not a science person; I'm a history person. Secretly, I was hoping this would be more of a "history of scientific stuff" kind of book, but it was a "science book about species from ancient history". The author's tone was pleasant, and downright
Nic Mcphee
Oct 12, 2014 Nic Mcphee rated it really liked it
Fortey is arguably a little chatty in places, but there is a lot of excellent content and many important ideas here. He does a very nice job of acquainting us with various existing species that shed valuable light on closely related species that existed millions of years ago, helping us understand the complexity of evolution, and the extinction and persistence of species over time. While the book focuses on huge stretches of geological time, it also illustrates how quickly and dramatically thing ...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
Aug 23, 2012 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Stephen Palmer
Mar 06, 2015 Stephen Palmer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Outstanding natural history book from one of the great men of our time - superb author, important palaeologist, good TV presenter. This book relates to the TV series of the same name, which was a good watch. The book begins with the horseshoe crab, then goes backwards into Precambrian time to look at a series of animals that have lasted through some or even all of Earth's major mass extinctions; then the tale goes forward to our own epoch, looking at various plants and animals. Beautifully writt ...more
Sep 05, 2013 Diarmid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Richard Fortey is a paleontologist with a special fondness for trilobites. 'Survivors' (published as 'Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms' in North America) is about species that have survived mass extinction events from horseshoe crabs and velvet worms to the survivors of the last Ice Age. Fortey has a clear passion for his subject, which is evident all the way through the book, and the stories are often fascinating.
Dec 28, 2015 Cade rated it it was ok
This is the second of Fortey's books that I have read. After reading Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution, I swore I wouldn't read any more books by Fortey. However, when I heard about this book, I liked the concept so much that I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, I quickly found myself regretting both that decision and my near-total inability to leave a book partially-read. This book is a good concept with far, far too much dull filler around the few actually interesting parts.

As I said, t
Sara Van Dyck
Aug 24, 2015 Sara Van Dyck rated it it was amazing
My background is not adequate for this book, so I struggled through most and skipped a couple of chapters. But what I did read is so fine that I give it a highest rating. It has all the information, of course, about the origins of life and the creatures that emerged over time. What kept my interest was Fortey’s delightful descriptions of his travels to find these creatures and those organisms themselves. Who could resist a scientist who explains that stromatolites are built up “layer by layer – ...more
Sep 03, 2016 Jess marked it as nope
Shelves: maybe-later
This is the kind of book I want to have read, but not the sort that I'm dedicated to enough to stick it out and finish it.

Too frustrated by how slow (more than double my normal speed) I had to read it, which seems like a silly yet justifiable complaint.

But interesting! And maybe some day I'll finish it.
Jul 18, 2016 Aaron rated it liked it
I became interested in horseshoe crabs after finding a huge eighteen-inch-wide dead one while kayaking in a salt marsh in South Carolina. After that, I tried to find as much information online as possible about this strange creature and, luckily enough, I soon ran across this book at the used book shop, with "horseshoe crabs" in the title and cool lithographic images of horseshoe crabs on the cover. I snatched it up, thinking it would take as its main topic this fascinating creature; a mistaken ...more
Dec 17, 2014 Katy rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is an awe inspiring overview of life and evolution on earth. My jaw literally dropped on quite a few pages. Beautifully written and has enough human interest sprinkled in to avoid information overload. There is also a handy index of terms and species names at the back of the book to refer to.
Edward Sullivan
Aug 11, 2014 Edward Sullivan rated it really liked it
The erudite Fortey takes readers on fascinating, entertaining tour of life’s history told through the stories of organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, throughout time. It is Fortey's curiosity and irrepressible enthusiasm for his subjects that make this book such a pleasure to read.
Jan 02, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Moved around the whole world learning about surviving species from millions of years ago. Fortey's sense of wonder at the absolute magnitude of time is contagious, and despite his vast knowledge, his writing is quite accessible.
Aug 29, 2014 Adrian added it
Renowned British palaeo Fortey travels far and wide revealing plants and animals that have survived deep time and tell us something about evolution. The man's thirst for knowledge is bottomless and it's impossible to sum up in a short review everything he turns up. Sponges, lampreys, trilobites, jellyfish, cockroaches and animals I'd never heard of such as echidna (like a hedgehog), tuatara (lizard) and tinamoa (bird). Weird facts abound. Turtles developed the bottom half of their shells first a ...more
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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
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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.” 4 likes
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