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A Fish Caught in Time

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  839 ratings  ·  105 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 u ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 5th 1999 by Fourth Estate
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"I picked away the layers of slime to reveal the most beautiful fish I had ever seen," she recounts. "It was five feet long, a pale, mauvy blue with faint flecks of whitish spots; it had an iridescent silver-blue-green sheen all over. It was covered in hard scales, and it had four limb-like fins and a strange little puppy dog tail. It was such a beautiful fish-more like a big china ornament-but I didn't know what it was."
~ Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer

I really enjoyed this fascinating tale of the d
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 our 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
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, concer ...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 t
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 discove ...more
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 Sm
sssnoo reads
Who would think I would love a book about a fish? I needed a book for Comoros in my around the world reading challenge and this was the best of few options. It was fantastic. I am a scientist and veterinarian so I do love animals and biology, but this book was exciting, had interesting quirky characters, and told a remarkable story. I devoured it.
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Imagine seeing a dinosaur suddenly appear?! This is as close as it gets to that. A fish known only through fossils is trawled up from the depths of the sea by a fisherman in South Africa. An extinct coelacanth! He gives it to the curator of a museum who brings in a fish expert.

The internal organs of the fish were not maintained so the eccentric expert seeks out another specimen. He journeys further up the current to Comoros where he believes the species may originate. And finds some! Is the coe
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 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, th ...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 #passpor
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 be
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 regardin ...more
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 int
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! ...more
Oct 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not a big nonfiction reader, primarily because no matter how interesting the topic, the writing can be so stale. This was not one of those books. The author did a wonderful job weaving the biographies of several coelacanth-adjacent scientists, history, interviews, and biology into a compelling read. I was excited every night to get into bed and see what would happen next.
One thing I thought was amiss - and maybe I'm getting into some larger, institutional, structural stuff here, but it's wor
This book tells of the discovery of the coelacanth, a fish that was believed to be extinct, but was then seen in 1938 when a museum curator in South Africa saw a specimen that had been caught by a local fisherman. Until this time the coelacanth existed only in fossil record. The coelacanth is believed to be a missing evolutionary link, and with fins that resemble a possible forerunner to legs, a close ancestor of the first animals to leave the sea and become land dwellers. The initial discovery ...more
Dressed in a neat black suit with a fake fur collar (which, she joked, was almost as old as the colecanth), Marjorie approached the microphone to deliver a short speech. She wanted to thank the South African Mint, she said, for the great honor, and also to trace briefly the events that led to her discovery. As she spoke about Captain Goosen, Bird Island, and J.L.B. Smith, about seeing the beautiful blue fish for the first time and her absolute conviction that it had to be saved, she put down her
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
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 fi ...more
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. ...more
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? ...more
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. ...more
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 40 ...more
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
During my vertebrate zoology module, the university lecturer created a book club and set this book as additional reading to help us understand the potential origin of all Vertebrates on earth today. Even when the university closed (due to the current pandemic), I continued to read and make notes from the book because it not only retells the scientists' fast-paced plus exciting adventures concerning the Coelacanth, it explains the discoveries they made about this Living Fossil. In doing so, the a ...more
Jul 27, 2020 rated it liked it
The story of the scientific study of the coelacanth is an undeniably interesting one, and the science in this book is fascinating and solid. The books failing, however, is that it glosses over the actions of some pretty deplorable people, most notably D.F. Malan, under whose premiership apartheid was found. Additionally, it's a bit uncomfortable to have the book talk about the "discovery" of the coelacanth while two separate indigenous peoples had been catching the fish for centuries and were fa ...more
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
An easy-to-read yet incredibly intriguing story of a fish thought to be extinct. That alone is fairly compelling, but the coelacanth also has features reminiscent of a missing link between the oceans and land animals. I especially enjoyed how the discoverer of the first species paid special tribute to the young woman who saved the fish from the scrap pile and preserved it for a few weeks before he could arrive by naming it after her. Definitely would recommend reading because it's a short book a ...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.
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!
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.
Kendra Mills
I don't have a lot to say about this one. I feel like the contents of the 200+ pages can be understood after reading the synopsis. For passionate fishermen or sea-life anthropologists, this might be an interesting account of the discovery of a missing link. ⁣

I read this as part of my #ReadTheWorld challenge - it takes place partly in the Comoros islands. ⁣
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