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Poseidon's Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  466 Ratings  ·  74 Reviews
A fascinating journey with the sea creature that has captured human imagination for thousands of years

Poseidon's Steed trails the seahorse through secluded waters across the globe in a kaleidoscopic history that mirrors man?s centuries-old fascination with the animal, sweeping from the reefs of Indonesia, through the back streets of Hong Kong, and back in time to ancient G
Roughcut, 272 pages
Published August 27th 2009 by Gotham (first published July 23rd 2009)
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Dec 08, 2012 Jen rated it did not like it
You know how in college, you had that term paper that had to be so many pages long, and you only had like 3 pages of actual things to say. THIS WHOLE BOOK WAS LIKE THIS!!!

The intro is all about how she went looking for a seahorse for years and years and years and then more years, and then some years after that.

Then when she discusses how seahorses are used in traditional Chinese medicines, she goes in depth about how these medicines are tested and what they found, and how they are used, and..."b
Oct 21, 2011 Emma rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology
I have been enchanted by seahorses for a very long time, so much so that my parents considered buying me a couple for my birthday a few years ago. Thankfully they decided not to after considering the ethical issues I might have with it. Anyway, this book got me so excited when I found it. It’s sat on my shelf calling to me for a couple of months and I finally gave in.

The text starts with a prelude completely about the author. Not exactly what I was hoping for and a bit self gratifying but OK, wh
Todd Martin
Mar 11, 2010 Todd Martin rated it really liked it
Everybody likes seahorses! Seahorses are members of the Syngnathidae family of fish which includes seahorses, pipefishes, and sea dragons. Even though they don’t do much more than twine their tails around a bit of seaweed and hang around eating and creating more seahorses they are odd and charming little creatures that have made their way into myth and popular culture.

In “Poseidon's Steed” author Helen Scales discusses everything ‘seahorse’ including their role in myth and culture, their natura
Jul 30, 2014 Starbubbles rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, buddy-read
I really liked this book. It was very easy to read and follow. That is not true of all science, nature, ecology, etc books. I completely disagree with her premise on that we should protect seahorses just because they are cool. Yes, they are cool and remind at least some people of the magic and wonder of the sea. But I believe they are a good barometer of the health of the water in that area. It is a point she touched on, then quickly skipped back to her "because they are awesome" argument. Maybe ...more
May 15, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Buddy read with Erica!

This was so cute and fun, much like seahorses themselves. I do think the subtitle (From Myth to Reality) is a bit misleading, though, because there was hardly any mythology discussed at all. I also don't feel like she adequately explained why seahorses are important and need to be protected. Her answer to that was basically, "because they're cool", which seemed like an odd stance for a biologist to take. Still, I learned a lot and I had a lot of fun reading it.

A lot of rev
Oct 18, 2015 Ladiibbug rated it really liked it

Wonderful book covering seahorses from a myriad of topics. From anatomy (the MALE carries the babies and gives birth!), to preferred habitat around the world, to various myths in various cultures over the centuries.

A highly interesting section of the book focused on Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM), going back centuries through time. While abbreviated to just one chapter, lots of great info. I was sad to discover seahorses are highly valued to be ground into dust and used, to this da
Sep 29, 2014 Samantha rated it it was ok
I picked up some interesting bits of trivia from this, but unfortunately it was an underwhelming, clunky, slow read that plodded along rather dully and often digressed into long discussions about things that had little to do with the main topic. With a name like Helen Scales, the author seems like the perfect person to chronicle sea life, but she's clearly more marine biologist than writer. I did enjoy the section on the Victorian origins of aquarium-keeping, but the rest was not at all engaging ...more
Oct 29, 2011 Chris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, animals
Parts of the book are interesting, parts are digressions. I get she loves Seahorses, but I could have used a little more, Seahorse facts.
Sam Faith
Mar 13, 2017 Sam Faith rated it really liked it
A fetchingly informative tome about syngnathidae history, myths, biology, their impotent role in Traditional Chinese Medicine tied to capture/trade effects, and the stark reality of the present climate impact on the present and future of these exquisite, quiet sea creatures.
Jun 25, 2016 987643467881 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
It's ironic that while trying so hard to convince readers how amazing and fascinating seahorses are, the book actually gave me the exact opposite impression... Are seahorses really so boring that a book on them would have to resort to using flowery, dramatic language (romantic under the sea re-enactments of seahorse copulation, etc.), random and arguably irrelevant stories (that just happen to include sculptures of seahorses, etc.), lengthy descriptions of traditional Chinese medicine (for erect ...more
Jennifer Boyce
This book was an extremely quick and relatively fascinating read.

I hadn't previously known or thought much about seahorses, so this book provided a good, solid education of seahorses and how they are in need of protection. I found it interesting to hear of the way people use seahorses; not just in aquariums, but rather, as traditional folk remedies for certain ailments. Seahorses are definitely a cool creature that is in need of protecting from humans... but I'm not exactly sure why.

I did have
Aug 23, 2011 Chris rated it liked it
Pleasant, inoffensive, and whimsical. Like seahorses. At the biological end it’s fairly skimpy- which just goes to show how little is known about these bizarre, secretive fish. I found the discussion on culture significance of sea horses to be a stretch—the inclusion of a sea horse on platterware that depicts a marine menagerie does not convincingly demonstrate a deep cultural enamor with the dainty weirdoes. Later chapters are devoted to topics that are applicable to sea horses but tackle much ...more
Apr 16, 2016 Rusty rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a fascinating look at seahorses. So little is really known about this fantastic sea creature that lives throughout the world in salt waters. There are 39 or more types with more being discovered as time passes. The former has been documented as it seems that many identified forms were really one of these found in another location. However, that decision is still to be verified so she lists all she could find in the many sources she examined. Seahorses are still used in homeopathic medici ...more
Apr 13, 2011 Christopher rated it liked it
A nice book about sea horses, or was it about aquariums and the history of, or was it about Chinese medicine and the history of...... I cant decide. Whatever it was about it made me want to read more about seahorses. I felt I learned about what becomes of seahorses when in this world at the hands of mankind and its not nice, for the seahorses at least. They are being fished to extinction along with so many other marine animals. The book is quite bias against Chinese medicine, and i cant help but ...more
Sep 04, 2009 Ruth rated it really liked it
I had first heard of this during an interview with the author on the Diane Rehm show a year or two back, and was really interested in reading it. The local library never got it in, though, and earlier this spring I saw it drastically reduced at a Borders going-out-of-business sale in SLC, so I bought it. I love the etchings (or woodcuts?) of seahorses throughout the book, as well as actual photos of various species of seahorse mentioned by the author. She keeps you pretty interested (although du ...more
Mark Ferguson
Aug 19, 2009 Mark Ferguson rated it it was ok
Poseidon's Steed is (I should have known) all about seahorses. I really love good popular science books, which is why I decided to read this one at a friend's insistence. Although there was enough of interest to get me through this short book, and it was written well enough to keep me reading, I have to say that I was pretty disappointed. In short, the book never really transcended its very narrow focus, and although I now know a lot more about seahorses than I ever thought I would, the book did ...more
Elizabeth Newell
Oct 14, 2009 Elizabeth Newell rated it liked it
Quite a good book, informative and entertaining. It generally did a good job of providing more than the usual types of information/trivia (OMG, the males get pregnant!) without being so scientific as to be a difficult read for a layperson. Some of the chapters meander a bit, like the one on Chinese Medicine, but after you read them you realize that they help to give a nice, balanced view of the issues. Saddening facts about conservation efforts and fishing, but ones that really help you realize ...more
Oct 21, 2015 Judith rated it really liked it
This is the second book of hers that I have read and like the first, it is entertaining, at times lyrical, hopeful of the future of the sea denizens. I didn't realize that so much is still unknown about seahorses and that they are so difficult to keep and mate in captivity. Nor did I know that they mate for life, or at least until the death of one of the pair. Nor did I know that they are not prey of any animal except accidentally. But they live large in the imaginations of many of us today. Her ...more
Really good and well written book about seahorses. Scales did a fantastic job in giving the entire story of seahorses from myth to science to conservation. You can tell a lot of research was put into this and when you read you never feel overwhelmed with the amount of information given to you. She packs it all in so little. A big part of this book talks about seahorse conservation and she ends it with a bloody brilliant line asking if you want to tell your grandkids that there used to be seahors ...more
Aug 24, 2014 Allison rated it really liked it
Wonderful! I love it when I pluck a book off the library shelf with the thought, "Why not? I might be interested in this topic?" and then the book is so well-written that I discover that I am, in fact quite fascinated--turns out that I very much like seahorses! They are something worth being curious about (which is the highest praise I can think of), and Scales does a great job of cataloging her curiosity and the answers she has found--as well as the questions that remain unanswered. I appreciat ...more
Corinna Bechko
Apr 30, 2012 Corinna Bechko rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, zoology
A truly charming book about a truly charming creature. There's all sorts of information about seahorses here, from their role in ancient mythology, to their biology, to their uses in modern day "traditional Chinese medicine". It also presents a very convincing case for the preservation of these amazing animals. If I had one quibble, it's that the author went too easy on TCM. Why such a bogus ideology should be let off the hook for exterminating animals in all corners of the world is beyond me. T ...more
Aug 05, 2009 Carrie rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals, own, shelf-1-1
In this book Helen Scales (please tell me this is her real name) provides an introduction to seahorse behavior, biology, habitat, mythology, and cultural significance. I'm very impressed that a contemporary marine biologist was able to describe her chosen species as real animals and as fairy princesses in the same book, and get away with it.

It's shorter and lighter than many popular science animal books, but this really didn't bother me. And I liked the pretty language, which seemed so fitting
I love books about marine animals, and looked forward to reading this. The chapters about seahorses in history, especially the stories of counterfeit treasure and Roald Dahl, I found especially interesting. I also enjoyed reading about Victorian naturalists and the history of aquariums, and found the author's description of her first seahorse sighting in Vietnam especially magical. Some chapters, like the one on seahorse hunting and traditional Chinese medicine, dragged a bit, and the final chap ...more
Maria Longley
Aug 09, 2013 Maria Longley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, fa, 2013
This book allows us to take a good look at an odd fish: the seahorse. It's a popular science book that treats us to a multidisciplinary approach in the different chapters considering such things as archeology, traditional Chinese medicine, conservation issues and climate change. Though at times this creature seems so thoroughly odd they are still sea dwellers and suffer along with everything else in the oceans with what we humans are doing. So that bit is as depressing as anything on the current ...more
David Bales
Oct 08, 2013 David Bales rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
A charming and informative book about seahorses, their natural history, their habits and habitats, by Helen Scales, a marine biologist. Scales searched the world from the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian oceans for seahorses, their lore from ancient times until the present and explores how seahorses are used for food, and in cultural ways. She presents the odd way that seahorses mate in a step by step how to guide, (for the interested) and explains the curious anomaly of how the male seahorse is th ...more
Interesting but brief and still relatively superficial. I suspect Scales was reaching a bit in some of her argument about early cultural reference to seahorses, like arguing that the indigenous myth of the rainbow serpent refers not to a serpent but a seahorse or pipefish, interesting but I am not convinced.
From a pop science standpoint the book is informative enough and readable. The discussion on ecology and fishing is informative, as is the discussion on the Chinese medicine trade. An okay p
May 27, 2010 Tracey rated it liked it
Shelves: no-longer-owned
An entertaining and well-researched look into the world of the Syngnathidae family - from both a historical and biological view. Scales describes her own experience with these amazing sea creatures, and then expands the narrative throughout human history and delves into their biology as well as their place in the environment.

Scales reminded me a bit of Simon Winchester in that she takes off on tangents within the larger narrative (the Victorian aquarium craze, Chinese traditional medicine) but
Jul 12, 2014 Pammie rated it really liked it
I like this type of non-fiction book that gives tons of information without getting bogged down in intense techno-speak. Seahorses live all over the world, and their habitat is being either altered or destroyed by human intervention, as well as people using them for traditional Chinese medicine. Apparently several of the species do not breed in captivity, although some don't seem to mind. Scales makes a great case for a threatened animal whose extinction would make very little monetary or ecolog ...more
Apr 16, 2016 Will rated it really liked it
Shelves: pop-sci
According to me in 2013:

It's a lovely read: history, mythology, physiology, tales of scuba diving and red flags about unsustainable fishing practices, all in one neat bundle. I found the chapter on the invention and maintenance of aquaria fascinating. Bonus points for Orkney chat, too – I need to remember to poll my relatives there about seahorse sightings since the Second World War.

I never have asked the Orkney lot about seahorses.
Feb 05, 2013 Henry rated it really liked it
This little fish has been around quite a while, but few people know much about him. This is a fascinating book of the seahorse in history and art (including a famous counterfeit gold brooch of one to replace a stolen one from a large collection of artifacts), a look at the species and life habits (the male bear young but the sperm to fertilize the gametes goes out of its body through a duct! Most of them mate for life, and the female does not wander about looking for new males to make pregnant. ...more
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In their review of my first book, Poseidon’s Steed, the Economist called me “The aptly named Helen Scales” and I guess they’re right. I do have a bit of a thing about fish (get it?).

Across the airways and in print, I’m noted for my distinctive and occasionally offbeat voice that combines a scuba diver’s devotion to exploring the oceans, a scientist’s geeky attention to detail, a conservationist’s
More about Helen Scales...

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