Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution
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Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  785 ratings  ·  53 reviews
"At last, I found a trilobite. The rock simply parted around the animal, like some sort of revelation. I was left holding two pieces of rock--surely what I held was the textbook come alive. The long thin eyes of the trilobite regarded me and I returned the gaze. More compelling than any pair of blue eyes, there was a shiver of recognition across 500 million years."

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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 31st 2000 by Knopf (first published June 19th 2000)
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Jenny Brown
Reading the other reviews here, it appears a lot of other people don't agree with me, but I found the author's chatty, self-satisfied style extremely annoying. At times it seemed like he'd written the book more to impress us with how clever he was, and how well-educated in the English classic canon, than to teach us about trilobites.

The prose is overly florid, filled with unnecessary words and phrases that the author clearly thought were clever and which might have worked in the context of an i...more
Nikki
Normally I quite like Richard Fortey's chatty style, but I think maybe there was a bit too much of it, here. He got me interested in geology, so he should've been able to keep me interested in trilobites, but sadly my interest did start to flag. The slight self-deprecating note of some of his other books isn't as much in evidence here, and he definitely came across as more British and more stuck up without that to mitigate it a bit and make him a bit less of a cliché.

Trilobites are still interes...more
Riley
This book taught me all I need to know and more about trilobites, the arthropod that's 300-million existence is so impressively preserved in the fossil record. The subject itself doesn't necessarily speak to me, but I appreciate anyone who is passionate and interested in a subject as author Richard Fortey is in his.

Here's one lyrical passage I underscored, about fossil-rich Cornwall in England:

"How can we conceive of the time needed to wear away these cliffs to nothing, to convert all the massed...more
Tim
While mostly good, it was so terribly terribly BRITISH. Dry borderline unfunny anecdotes about some forgotten aspect of English culture went on for far too long when he could have been talking more about his theories of trilobite interactions with their ecology or their particular curiosities of morphology (of which there is never ever enough discussion for my satisfaction).

There is a hell of a lot of good and interesting information in here, but the too fluffy emphasis on POP in an admittedly...more
David
Great book with plenty of fine illustrations in line and photographs. When I was studying this sort of thing the textbooks were dull and thick and the writing far too small. I would have loved to have had this book then by way of an exciting introduction. I used to be mad about dinosaurs, as are most kids, but trilobites took over later on and I actually dug up a few myself on the Yorkshire coast.
Juliet Wilson
I've been disappointed by Richard Fortey's book before, I felt that both Life: An Unauthorised Biography and Earth An Intimate History tried to cover too much ground and ended up being unsatisfying reads.

However, despite this and the fact that on his otherwise interesting TV programme on prehistoric animals he seemed almost obsessed with eating the nearest relative of every extinct creature, I do have a lot of respect for Fortey as a scientist. Given also that Trilobites are his specialism I exp...more
Clare O'Beara
This is a recreation of these creatures which used to roam the sea floors in prehistoric times, explained by an expert. The basic pattern of body, head and tail in segments, with legs allowed for astonishing variations as some creatures adapted to shallow or deep waters, mud floors, rocky or sandy. The trilobites (three lobes) had two eyes made of a solid crystal, amazingly.

While all palaeontologists study no-longer living creatures, some have left descendants such as modern sharks or crocodile...more
Jake
Absolutely amazing. I've read Fortey before, and always been impressed, but I'd grown tired of pop sci type stuff, and it had been a while. One of my problems with this type of scientific-story-for-the-masses book is that they generally seem to be a three hundred page book for a fifty or one hundred page story. What starts out really grabbing my attention tends to lose steam about half way through. Fortey doesn't have that problem, because he's not a writer who's found an interesting scientific...more
Colin
This book does shed light on trilobites - their biology, ecology, evolution and even behavior. For non-scientists, there is plenty of explanation of scientific methods etc. These get pretty repetitive, enough so that I suspect everyone will be skimming/skipping these sections by half way through.

Personally I found that it was weighed down by the author's self-involvement. Fortey attempts to bring the book alive with lots and lots of personal anecdotes. It works okay in the beginning but gets ol...more
VeganMedusa
I really wanted to love this book, but sorry, trilobites don't interest me that much.
Felly
Interesting and impassioned book!

Read this book during my fieldwork in Sulawesi and luckily borrowed it from a friend. Many thanks to Adele for lending me this super awesome and well written book!

TRILOBITES is not only just a fossils says Richard Fortey. It contains many stories behind its carrapaces and moulting stages. Famous in Cambrian Period and vanished in the end of Ordovician Period, this living fossils manifests extraordinary features and reveals magnificent roles when earth still youn...more
Andrew Walter
I have to admit that I read this book purely on a whim, because I wanted something non-fiction to read from the library. Previously I had never read anything by Fortey nor even heard of him, and always thought that trilobites only came in the "classic" shape and size of Phacops that I'd seen in so many museum gift shops. The alarming monstrosity displayed on the cover of this edition piqued my interest, and soon I was away with the humble trilobite.

Concepts of evolution where what I found fascin...more
Last Ranger

The Beetles of the Paleozoic.

As this is my first book written by Richard Fortey I didn't quite know what to expect from this British paleontologist. Part science, part history and autobiography, Trilobite is written with a poetic slant that can take the reader off on some of the author's personal musings on a variety of subjects that are seemingly unrelated to trilobites but, sooner or later, he reveals the connection. Fortey's first job as a professional paleontologist was at a museum, a dream...more
Peggy
If you’ve ever tried to read a science book, especially one written by a respected expert in a given field, then you know that the books can be a bit…dry. All that material, all of those facts, all of those tables and charts and graphs can be overwhelming to a general reader. But every once in a while, a scientist comes along who is so enthusiastic, so passionate, so giddy in love with his subject that you get swept away in the ensuing rush.

Trilobites are some of the earliest creatures in existe...more
Marfita
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ilya
Trilobites were a class of arthropods in the Paleozoic, as common then as beetles are now. They had biramous limbs, like crustaceans, which were undifferentiated - no lobster claws for them; they were protected by a shield, which fossilized readily. Since it was realized in the 17th century that fossils are not just geological formations that happen to look like living things, but remains of living things, trilobites have been studied by several great paleontologists. Richard Fortey loves trilob...more
Durdles
If you only read one trilobite book (you know you should) this must be the one. Professor Fortey is incapable of writing a boring paragraph and you will learn far more than is healthy about these arthropods, that survived 300 million years on earth, and much else besides. The author's knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious starting at The Cobweb Inn at Boscastle, Cornwall, Fortey climbs the "Cliff With No Name" to find the spot where Knight comes face to face with his own mortality in the form o...more
Dennis Boccippio
This book was surprisingly enjoyable. The narrative style is a little colorful, but I disagree with some of the reviews that found it "overmuch so" (though this will be a matter of personal preference I think). I found the mixture of literary indulgence and scientific exposition refreshing. The style works wonderfully in the first half where trilobites are introduced first as a very "rough sketch", then more and more details layered in, somewhat channeling the spirit of discovery. It draws the r...more
Mandy Haggith
This is my partner Bill's favourite book in the whole world. After he'd read it for the fourth time in a row, I gave it a go. Although I wouldn't put it at the top of my desert island books, it is a wonderful read. He is a funny and engaging writer and he draws fascinating insights into evolution from his vast expertise of these long-extinct creatures. Highly recommended.
Steve Van Slyke
I so enjoyed Fortey's book "Earth" that I added this and another of his earlier works to my To Read list. One of the things I enjoy about Fortey is that he takes what could be an extremely dry and dull subject and makes it colorful and interesting to the lay reader. For example, he starts off by describing the old pub on the Cornish coast from where he sets off on his first trilobite hunt. The amazing thing about trilobites is the sheer number of species and body types (too many to look at in a...more
Mallory
Trilobites. Something we learned about in evolution class, and yet I didn't put too much thought into them. Fortey is a man completely in love with trilobites. This book was great, it taught me a lot on the subjects of evolution, paleontology, and science in general. It is fascinating to me that by identifying certain species of trilobites, scientists can piece together geographical maps of the Paleozoic world. Fortey writes almost as if he were speaking to a lecture hall, he adds interesting si...more
Andromeda M31
Found at a hostel in ate Anau belonging to the Intercarvill library system...

A fun read, but a tad too dull. Could have benefitted from a more linear structure instead of the authors meandering chapters, and he's never as cute as he thinks he is. Neptune's Ark is a better example of a fun non-fiction evolutionary fossil journey, but I'll be damned if trilobites are awesome no matter what. There's lots of good stuff in here, from the trilobites, to the scientists, to scientific philosophy. Absolu...more
A.
The most delightful science book I've read in a long time. I keep saying this, but Fortey's love for trilobites is expressed in very nearly every page. His wording also made me laugh a number of times (don't worry, it was intentional). It is so pleasant to 'listen' to someone speak about something they're enthusiastic and knowledgeable about. Fortey's childlike enthusiasm about trilobites is infectious. I'm actually inspired to e-mail him!
Genetic Cuckoo
The book is aimed at a audience with a serious interest in paleontology and goes in to minute detail about the species of trilobite, it can be hard to follow if you dont grasp the different names and features, but it is interesting. The story at the begining seems a little irrelevant but it is worth reading if you want to better appreciate these wonderfully adaptable and sucessful organisms.
Anna
Loved it. Such a page-turner for a non-fiction book: charmingly written, with plenty of humour, personal accounts and insights into the human side of things, and a beauty and cantering rhythm to the writing which made it a pleasure to read. And the trilobites themselves are interesting, made all the more so through Fortey’s enthusiastic telling of their story.
Malia
This book is full of great information about trilobites and why trilobites are important to science at large. But it's more than that, because it's a lot like taking a class with that kooky professor who's so enthusiastic about his/her field that the love of the subject is completely infectious. I wish there were books like this about every species.
Mihai Popa
I think that Richard Fortey has a wonderful gift in explaining the arcanes of trilobite paleozoology to the general public, as well as their scientific beauty and complexity. His writing is enthousiastic, passionate and precise, simplifying in a very elegant manner complicate paleontological aspects which become so meaningful and attractive.
Kester J
Fortey succeeds in making trilobites interesting, which is an achievement that deserves some credit. I did find this particularly dense and hard-going though, and it felt like it took much longer to read than it should have done. It's a strange book, feeling quite dry and academic despite the author's obvious attempts at enlivening things.
Jesse
three stars for the info, plus one star for the trilobites. these fossils are incredibly important for understanding ancient continents and so much other paleo. working in humble seclusion, never given the sexy headlines of dinosaurs, when you hear people talk about "the fossil record" trilobites are a big part of it.
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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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“Without death there is little innovation. Extinction - death of a species - is part and parcel of evolutionary change. In the absence of this kind of extinction new developments would not prosper. In our own history, periods when ideas have been perpetuated by dogma, preventing the replacement of old by new ideas, have also been times of stultifying stagnation. The Dark Ages in western society were the most static, least innovative of times. So the fact that trilobites were replaced by batches of successive species through their long history was a testimony to their evolutionary vigour.” 3 likes
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