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A Fish Caught in Time

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  778 ratings  ·  93 reviews
Just before Christmas in 1983, the young woman curator of a small South African museum spotted a strange-looking fish in a trawler's catch. It was five feet long, with steel blue scales, luminescent eyes and remarkable limb-like fins, unlike those of ant fish she had ever seen. Determined to preserve her unusual find, she searched for days for a way to save it, but ended ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 5th 1999 by Fourth Estate
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  778 ratings  ·  93 reviews


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Deborah Ideiosepius
This fascinating history of the Coelacanth is beautifully written, lighthearted and fascinating. A brilliant yarn in every sense of the word, it tells the story of how the Coelacanth went from being a fossil considered to be extinct for 50-70 million years to being one of the few distinguished 'living fossils' of out time.

The story takes us back to East London, South Africa 1938 when a young museum curator, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer went down to examine a trawler catch and found a fish that was
...more
Robyn McIntyre
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is what I look for in a book on a scholarly subject. The author handles the facts well, but is able to make the people involved come alive, allowing the reader to care about them. Weinberg's good writing makes the transitions from fact to biography in such a manner that you never feel disconnected from the story of the search. I found myself getting excited about the search and the trip to a far-away island to collect a specimen was almost daring-do. And amidst all of this publicity, ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
I tried to see if this fish was featured in the Jason Mamoa-starrer film AQUAMAN but failed to find it there (some scenes were quite a blur, though). But maybe it wasn’t really there. For this is not a violent fish.

I consider this fish, the Coelacanth (pronounced: “silly cunt”), as the rock star of all the fishes in our seas and oceans. The world was shocked when a live specimen of this fish was caught in 1938, just before the outbreak of the second world war. Utter disbelief and amazement was
...more
Jessica
Jan 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my second time with this one. The first time was several years ago when it was a new-ish release, long before kids. This time it was a morning read-aloud selection. K gave it a 3, L gave it a 5...no surprise there, she loves the true stories of weird and wonderful things. It doesn't get too much weirder than the coelacanth. This is the story of the odd 'living fossil' and how it was identified by the scientific community. In particular, I love the story of Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, ...more
Anna Baillie-Karas
The story of the coelacanth fish. I didn’t know what this was but was completely hooked by the story (so to speak, ha ha). Thought to be extinct, fossils date back 400m years. It may be humans’ ancestor in the evolutionary chain. One was found in the Comoros islands in 1938, to huge excitement & a quest ever since. Loved the stories of the people involved, especially the amazing Marjorie Courtney-Latimer who saw its significance in 1938. Simon Winchester fans will enjoy.

I read this for
...more
GoldGato
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Old Four Legs. While that may sound like someone leaving a pub run, it's really the affectionate name given to the Coelacanth, a fish thought to have been extinct until its mind-altering appearance in 1938. Since then, more have surfaced with their electrifying blue color and prehistoric everything else. They were supposed to be extinct! How amazing. Like Jurassic Park underwater.

I first became fascinated with this living fossil thanks to a National Geographic issue dedicated to this strange
...more
Daren
This is a well written book of good pace and very good explanation - and with the subject matter that was necessary, to stop it turning text-book.
In 1938 a fish was caught by a fishing boat off the coast of South Africa. The local museum curator took it from the fishermen, and despite it being Christmas time, set about trying to contact people to assist with the identification. The fish was a Coelacanth, thought long extinct.
This is the story of the curator, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, or JLB
...more
Lara
This is not really about the coelacanth intself, but is, instead, about the men and women involved in first realizing what it was and what it meant when one was caught by fishermen in 1938, and about the quest to find out where they live and how they function. I suppose you could call it a modern history of the coelacanth, though a fairly shallow one. I would have liked more back story--information about the first coelacanth fossils found and what people thought about them when they were ...more
Mandy Setterfield
This is one of my favourite non-fiction books of all time. If you are interested in fish or fossils or conservation it's for you. And if you're not particularly into any of those, read it anyway! It is entertaining and fast paced, and so readable. Don't be put off by the weird subject matter, it's all part of the charm!
Juha
Mar 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in natural history, evolutionary biology, environment and, of course, fish.
This is both an educative and entertaining book about the search for a prehistoric fish. Long believed extinct, the Coelacanth was first discovered off the waters of South Africa in the Indian Ocean in 1938. Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer was a young curator at the East London museum when she recognized there was something odd in one of the fish brought to her by a fishing boat. She contacted J.L.B. Smith, a recognized scientist who would become obsessed with the living fossil--and would later name ...more
Tweedledum
In A Fish Caught In Time Samantha Weinberg has written the fantastic and fascinating story of the discovery of the coelacanth . Weinberg was able to undertake direct research for the book including speaking directly with many of the people closely involved with the story and the book reads like a great mystery story. In the video below Weinberg reads from her book and touches on the journey of discovery that she herself went on in researching the story. Her enthusiasm is infectious and having ...more
Christian
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A non fiction story told almost in a yarn around the campfire style, very conversational but very informative. Most of all, have learnt so much bout the coelacanth from reading this.
Starting in 1938, the book essentially spans around 60 years looking at the rediscovery of the extinct prehistoric fish and the challenge to identify, catch and eventually conserve the coelacanth. A brilliant book that starts fast, has a little mini dip but then picks up the pace again.
Well worth reading if it
...more
Evelyn
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
"The fact that living coelacanths could escape detection in an area well studied by ichthyologists for over 100 years is wonderful". I would add amazing to this thought. What other mysteries are out there waiting to be discovered?
J.M.
Apr 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Excellent book. The writing grabs you from the first page and reels you in (no pun intended). I'm not even a big fan of fish, but at times I couldn't put this down. I'd definitely be interested in reading more by this author on other subjects, as she made this one so accessible.
Marta Rodriguez
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Marta by: David Lebron
I am not into non-fiction... this book was absolutely fascinating!! As a boat owner, I've always dreaming of this happening to me.
Jennifer Pletcher
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story about a fish that was thought extinct. The Coelacanth (see-lo-canth) was thought to have died out 400 million years ago with the dinosaurs. However - in 1938, an ameteur ichthologist spotted a fish on a deck. This coelacanth was 5 feet long and had limb like fins. She saved what she could until she could get ahold of one of the best ichthyologist - JLB Smith. He recognized it right away and wanted to get to Comoros to see if they could find more. Over the years - through the ...more
Asta Schmitz
Not so much about the fish as about the people looking for it, this book is still interesting but it left me wanting to know more about the coelacanth. It came out 20 years ago so there are bound to be new developments. Though well-written it frequently made me feel like maybe someone should mention the realities of Apartheid while we're spending so much time in South Africa with very intelligent white people for whom all doors seem to open effortlessly. It also left a bitter aftertaste ...more
Brett Miller
Aug 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a delightful little book about the crowd pleasing living fossil. I would have thought a book about this subject would become bloated at times, but the pace of the book and the number of facts she included were spot on. I enjoyed how she framed the story from the beginning off her experience in the Comoros with the fisherman-and throughout the story she never let the scientists or the European side dominate, frequently returning to local customs and interviews.
Annabelledaffodil
Absolutely fascinating book! I first heard about coelacanths when I was a kid in the 60s and have been intrigued by them every since. This book is a great account of how it first came to the world’s attention in a big way almost 80 years ago and of how it has affected many peoples lives since then. I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the natural sciences!
Kathleen
This was a rather sad book. The first few chapters were lively and exciting as I've always been fascinated with this creature. But halfway through the book, I became deeply saddened at man's yet again, egotistical need to conquer a species near to extinction.
I hope all who read this are encouraged to become conservationists on some level for either this majestic fish or another amazing animal.
Sarah
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-the-best
An excellent, well written book aimed at non-scientists. This book tells the story of the human tale of the discovery of the Coelacanth - a fish thought to be extinct. It was a delight to read and got me fascinated in all things fishy!
Yi-hsin Lin
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick, enjoyable read, though without as much scientific detail as I might have liked. It mostly focuses on the story of the people who re-discovered the coelacanth, first in South Africa, then in the Comoros, and finally in Indonesia.
John Pollard
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice blend of story telling around interesting and dedicated naturalists and fish known only by fossil record going back 60 million years emerging alive and well in our oceans, looking like something evolving that might have preceded other species that became land dwelling.
Theresa Nardi
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When you want to get off the novel and fiction wagon for a while (guilty as charged) pick this book up. Well written and compelling it is a look at science at its best...always more questions than answers.
Michelle Bizzell
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fish-books, nature
Very straight forward, this book described the pivotal events in the discovery of the Coelacanth, a 400 million year old fish species. It gives background on the people involved and context for why people should be excited about this "fossil fish." ...more
Christina Eastwood
A well told story, but how strange that no one asks why the coelacanth disappears from the fossil record suddenly "65 million" years ago if it has been alive and well during all the intervening time.
Adam Hinterthuer
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A solid piece of science writing about a discovery we are still only starting to understand. Great example of scicomm and telling the story through people as they will always be the most fascinating characters to us other humans reading the story!
George Brett
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book really captures the excitement of discovery and the larger than life characters.
Jennifer
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: scientists, biologists, ichthylogists, natural historians, science historians
Recommended to Jennifer by: no one - came across it in another book
Apart from sharks, I had never thought of any fish as “charismatic” but what else would you call a five-foot long fish with steel-blue scales, luminescent green eyes, and limb-like fins that frequently does headstands when submersibles approach?

Coelacanths (seel-a-kanths) swam in Panthalassa and watched the dinosaurs rise and fall. In fact, their fossil record goes back 400 million years. However, they vanished from the fossil record around the same time the dinosaurs did and were presumed
...more
Becky
Mar 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author clearly did their research on coelacanths, but there were unfortunately some distracting errors of basic biology. A good read nonetheless.
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