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Living Fossil: The Story of the Coelacanth

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  79 ratings  ·  14 reviews
In the winter of 1938, a fishing boat by chance dragged from the Indian Ocean a fish thought extinct for 70 million years. It was a coelacanth, which thrived concurrently with dinosaurs and pterodactyls—an animal of major importance to those who study the history of vertebrate life.

Living Fossil describes the life and habitat of the coelcanth and what scientists have learn
Paperback, 252 pages
Published July 17th 1992 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1991)
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Apr 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Living Fossil
The Story of the Coelacanth
By Keith S. Thomson - (born 27.09.1938)

The author, Keith S. Thomson is an English Biologist and ‘coelacanth’ expert who has dissected several coelacanth specimens, tells the story of fifty years of scientific research on a unique animal.
In December 1938, a South African fishing trawler netted an unusual fish that was thought to be extinct for 80 million years.
The primary interest of this fish resides in its four ‘lobe-finned means of locomotion, as in Dev
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
On December 22, 1938, Marjorie Courtney-Latimer, curator of the small natural history museum of East London on the southeastern tip of South Africa, was called to the docks by a friendly trawler captain. Courtney-Latimer had a standing arrangement with local fisherman. They would call her if they discovered any unusual specimens so she could add them to the museum. She was stunned by what she saw on the deck. This fish was unlike anything seen before. It was about 5 feet long, a very strange blu ...more
Braden Lewis
Aug 16, 2012 rated it liked it
"Living Fossil" combines a narrative of scientific discovery with a discussion of evolutionary origins, physiology, and conservation. The books is a combination of Steinbeck's "Log From the Sea of Cortez" with Shubin's "Your Inner Fish". Having purchased this book on a whim at a used book store, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I would highly recommend the book to anyone who enjoyed the above mentioned books or to anyone with an interest in fish and/or aquatic biology. ...more
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was excited to see this book on my bookshelf, as I did a school report on the coelacanth - the prehistoric fish miraculously rediscovered in the 1930s - when I was about nine. When I opened the book, I found a letter from my father to my sister, from whom I must have inherited it. Dad had a coelacanth connection. Here's his letter:

November 12, 1991. Dear Jane,
I noticed this book and decided to buy it for you. I think that you will find it quite interesting but I must admit that in buying it I
Richard Holmes
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Biology has never been one of my strongest interests, but now and then I dive into it a bit. When Bookbub mentioned Living Fossil was on sale for some stupidly low price I thought I'd pick it up.

It's a good book. Pretty readable and interesting. The writing's not always as coherent as one would like — a few places where the author seemingly switches subjects in the middle of a paragraph and the like — but good on the whole.

But you should be aware how dated this book is. When published 26 years a
Marcia Morrison
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Once upon a time, archaeologists knew about an early type of "lobe-finned" fish they named the coelacanth, which was thought to have been extinct since the end of the Cretaceous. Then in 1938, a local museum curator was walking through a fish market off the coast of South Africa, and saw something that turned out to be a (recently) living specimen.

A friend lent this book to me. The writing style is clear. I found it a bit technical in some places, which means it isn't a fast read, but I enjoyed
Rick Elinson
This 1991 book unfortunately lies in the dead zone between the epochal discoveries of the coelacanth in 1938 and 1952 by Courtenay-Latimer and J.L.B. Smith and the results of the last 30 years. Smith's account "Old Fourlegs" is a classic scientific quest, written with flair and excitement. Thomsen's book provides a useful summary of coelacanth results to 1991, but often written like a first year biology text. Two notable changes since 1991 are the discovery of two more populations of coelacanth ...more
Christine Mathieu
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The coelacanth is a fish which gets 6 feet long and was already existing when dinosaurs populated our earth. It's a vertebrate.
For many years scientists and zoologists believed him to be extinct, but in 1938 a woman who lived and worked in South Africa discovered a dead coelacanth.
Then a few more coelacanths have been found in the 1950's and after.

Thomson wrote a fascinating book about the fossil fish. I've read this book some 25 years ago for the first time and took it to Nantucket last weekend
Thomas Fackler
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great summary of what we know about the friendly neighborhood coelacanth.
Mar 05, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
hab ich meine leseblues überwunden und sofort danach mit dark angefangen?
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Quite interesting for the most part. If considered as science writing, this is a 5 star book. I have always been fascinated by the story of the (re)discovery of this ancient fish. This book does a good job of telling the semi-comic efforts of a scientist and a museum curator in a very remote part of South Africa to get the world's attention when they realized what this fish was. ...more
Dec 23, 2015 rated it liked it
The coelacanth is a prehistoric fish thought to be extinct since the times of the dinosaurs until one is caught in 1938 off the southeast coast of Africa. This sets in motion a social and political drama as science clashes with human ego and international relations in attempts to learn what can be learned. This species is also unique in its hypothesized links between fish and land animals. The human drama was the most interesting part for me - Thomson is a renowned biologist and I have to admit ...more
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
The amazing story of the discovery of the first live Coelocanth, thought to have been extinct since the time of the dinosaurs, and the attempts to study the beautiful and mysterious fish in the time since.
Carolyn Rose
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
In places this is, of necessity, fairly dry. But the effort to discover more about this fish is fascinating.
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Keith Thomson is Executive Officer of the American Philosophical Society and Professor Emeritus of Natural History, University of Oxford.

Modified from an interview with Greg Ross in “American Scientist”
I have had a wonderful career as a professor of biology and dean (at Yale), a museum director (Yale, Philadelphia, and Oxford), and more recently as an author. I started out as a biologist intereste


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