Paul D. Taylor & David N. Lewis (2005).
Published by the Natural History Museum. ISBN 0 565 091832. Hardcovers, 208pp., Price £25.00
This is a beautifully produced book which aims to give its readers an introduction to examples of common and not so common fossil invertebrates from around the globe and also to give some insight into the lives they might have lived. It is not a textbook and by and large avoids excessive nomenclature and technical terms. The first chapter sets the scene by describing where, how and why animals become fossilised and giving information about geological time. The bulk of the book, however, is split into five chapters which deal respectively with colonial organisms (including bryozoans, corals and graptolites), those with shells (i.e. molluscs and brachiopods), a variety of 'worms' and tubes, the arthropods and the echinoderms.
Malacologists may want to 'home in' immediately on their beloved taxa, in Chapter 3, where they will not be disappointed to see a wide range of bivalve, gastropod, cephalopod (nautiloids, ammonoid and coleoid) and scaphopod (along with extinct bellerophontids and rostroconchs) fossils beautifully illustrated and described. But I really would encourage them to delve further into the book, particularly if they are unfamiliar with the treasures of the fossil record of marine invertebrates. Each section gives a general introduction to the taxon under discussion, and a review of extant representatives and their life habits. Where technical terms are necessary these are usually explained in the text without authors resorting to trotting out the standard textbook figures. This approach works remarkably well and the reader can painlessly acquire quite a lot of technical language. For example the reader will quite painlessly end up knowing what maculae are in bryozoans and brachidia in brachiopods. Only in the final chapter does this break down somewhat and some of the terms applied to echinoderms sent this reader scurrying for an alternative explanation.
The text is laced with interesting and useful information on the palaeoecology of particular taxa, and also the reader is also confronted with different viewpoints. For example were the Palaeozoic hyoliths an extinct class of molluscs or another one of those funny 'worm-like' groups that abound in the lower Phanerozoic? Palaeontologists still have much to learn! There are also interesting asides on 'fossil folk-lore'. Fossils are commonplace in many regions of the world and of course many non-scientific explanations have been dreamt up to explain them. Many readers will be familiar with ammonites as 'snake stones' but here they will also learn of the extinct echinoderm cystoids as 'crystal apples'.
Each taxon section ends with detailed descriptions and pictures of particular taxa. These examples are chosen largely to represent common and widespread forms. And so, for example for the molluscs, the reader is introduced to bivalves such as Crassostrea, Pholadomya and Trigonia, the gastropods Turritella, Neptunea and Strombus and the cephalopods Goniatites, Dactylioceras and Phylloceras. It is these individual descriptions which are the real glory of the book. The black and white photographs and specimens which accompany the text are cleverly selected, often showing particular points of interest (for example predatory borings, original colour patterning) and magnificently taken. These are supplemented by a central section of colour pictures illustrating other fossils or living taxa. What better way to understand and envisage what a Cretaceous sponge might have looked like than to compare it with a living example?
All in all this is a splendid book. The general interest reader will find much to fascinate and educate them. Although it certainly isn' It is beautifully produced and illustrated and the easily understood descriptions could not fail to impress themselves on the mind. At £25 it is very good value!