Author: Andy Secher
Title: Travels with Trilobites: Adventures in the Paleozoic
Andy Secher’s book is a love letter to trilobites. Filled with purple prose and overly emotional at times, its enthusiasm and open admiration for its subject is nonetheless quite catching. A chapter or two of this book, especially if accompanied by careful examination of the photographs, and I’m ready to hit the road and roam the countryside, hammer in hand, in search of trilobites. Say what you will, trilobites were amazing creatures and their fabuluously strange bodies preserved for millions of years can be both a source of aesthetic pleasure and of intellectual curiosity. Looking at some of the species, you can almost see what inspired H.R. Giger… 😀
I’m a bit miffed that my Kindle version contains only black-and-white photographs, because photos are absolutely the strongest element of this book. Check them out online – full-colour, often full-page spreads of the close-ups of… trilobites. Ventral and dorsal sides, antennae, pygidia, disarticulated exoskeletons in different colors, profusion of axial spines, all of this and more is here :). These many-legged functional equivalents of today’s horseshoe crab were one of the most successful genera in Earth’s long history, and the thrived in the shallow seas for over two hundred and fifty million years (yes, 250 million!). Over this time they had been continuously evolving and adapting to their environment in many, often surprising forms. It’s telling that there’s over 25 thousand recognized species of trilobites. In Travels with Trilobites Secher showcases the treasures of his own collection, and the photographs are truly impressive. Some of these trilobites look ready to run off the page, jump into the ocean and start swimming around (or just dig into the sediment and sit there happily).
Secher conveys a bit of his hard-earned knowledge here, although mostly of the more pragmatic, collector-oriented type: where the most interesting or popular species of trilobites can be found, how much they can cost, who digs them out and how they are prepared, how to make sure you’re not getting a Frankenstein trilobite artfully concocted from disparate parts of completely disparate species, etc. The book is intentionally light, filled with anecdotes and conversations with fellow collectors. He takes his readers on a trip through the most trilobite-infested (I imagine Secher would have been quite offended at my use of the term, as he prefers to call them trilobite-rich) places on Earth, from Grenland and Canada to the U.S. to Morocco to Russia to China and Australia, and along the way delivers a general overview of the quirks of geological time and tectonic plate movement. If you expect a scientific book, however, that’s not it. In Secher’s own words, his book should be treated as engaging infotainment. Light on science, full to the brim with pretty pictures, Travels with Trilobites would make a perfect coffee table book: to be picked now and then, with focus on the delightful images (of which there are 300!), with bits of entertaining text to be read if the mood’s right. And the mood must be right, because, truth be told, the style is so ornate, verbose and purple that sometimes it’s quite difficult to endure – at least for me. Just a taste here, one sentence among thousands:
“Thanks to this intriguing combination of factors – including their easy availability for both study and sale, their often outlandish appearance, the amazing tales told by their fossilized remains, and the incredible duration of their passage through Earth history – trilobites, in all their multisegmented glory, represent one of early life’s most captivating efforts.”
Still, the enthusiasm palpable on these pages makes up for the overly purply tinge of the long and winding sentences 😉 Secher clearly loves trilobites in all their sizes and forms. His admiration for these unique, long-gone creatures, as well as his collecting zeal, are really contagious. So, if Secher’s true purpose was to unleash a growing horde of trilobite lovers upon the world, he actually has a pretty good chance of succeeding. Count me in!
I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.