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A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth Paperback – 19 Aug 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (19 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857029070
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857029079
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

This witty account of the current state of play in the search for extant species of the coelacanth, the living fish which may be descended from the ancestors of all land life, starts, as it has to, with Marjorie Latimer, the curator of a small museum, who had been taught her palaeontology by very strict nuns. When a fisherman showed her an odd fish, she instantly recognised it as supposedly extinct for millions of years. Several years later, after endless promises of rewards, the first of many coelacanths was fished out of the sea round the Comoros--they were being thrown back since time immemorial because they are not good eating and have a strongly laxative effect. There followed an unedifying tale of national rivalry--South African and French skulduggery and national pride in dead fish--a risk of a final extinction caused by Chinese herbalists, and discoveries of more fish off Madagascar and Indonesia. Weinberg knows what is important and what is not, but does not let good stories go unnoticed all the same. Her command of the details is impressive--you come away knowing what the excitement was all about. The account is excellent and humane, if cute--and the cliffhangers about extinction and possible other habitats are exciting as well. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'A fascinating tale that mixes scientific intrigue, international politics and adventures on the high seas' -- Gale Vines, Independent

'Garnished with great splashes of narrative colour and makes an excellent light holiday read.' -- Sara Wheeler, Daily Telegraph

'The discovery of the coelacanth, as told in Samantha Weinberg's thrilling new book, reads like some classic Spielberg creation - Indiana Jones let loose in a real-life Jurassic Park.' -- Philip Marsden, Mail on Sunday

'You'll probably learn more about prehistoric life from this amiable account than from a million well-intended, dust-encrusted copies of the Voyage of the Beagle.' -- Bella Bathurst, Scotsman

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Aug. 2000
Format: Paperback
The story of the discovery of the coelacanth, the fish that was previously only known through fossil records. I didn't think I was interested dinosaurs or natural history, but I read this book on the basis of another review, and I'm glad I did. The story is quite a complex one, from the excitement of the incredibly lucky, accidental discovery of the coelacanth in the 1930's, to, sadly, its over-exploitation today. It's horrific that man's greed and interference might lead to the extinction of an animal that has quite simply been minding its own business for the last fifty million years. This well-written, fascinating book is interesting for both the story that it tells and the wider issues that it touches on.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Martin Ohara on 11 Feb. 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book deserves the same level of accolade as accompanies Longitude, it is a superbly told human story of the rediscovery of the Coelacanth. This is the modern day (20th Century) equivalent of a genuine Jurassic park, on a smaller scale of course. Well written, engaging narrative and told from the human rather than scientific side, although the science is in no way ignored. This book was a pure delight to read and really had me turning the pages faster than virtually any other popular science book I have read in recent years.
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By Peter Buckley VINE VOICE on 10 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
This is the modern history of the discovery of living Coelacanths (pronounced `seel-uh-kanths'). Since there have been exciting developments since 1998, it serves as a background text well worth reading especially for the human side of the story, the personalities involved, also a record of the petty exploitation and destruction these unique creatures have suffered since their rediscovery. Samantha Weinberg details the circumstances that led up to their protected status.
The Coelacanth specimen caught in 1938 led to the discovery of the first documented population, off the Comoros Islands, between Africa and Madagascar. For sixty years this was presumed to be the only Coelacanth population in existence.
Coelacanths were considered the "missing link" between the fish and the earliest four-limbed land animals, until the first living specimen was found. Living coelacanths turned out to have no lungs. This discovery 65 million years after they were believed to have gone extinct makes them arguably the most well-known example of a `Lazarus taxon', a species that appeared to have disappeared from the fossil record only to reappear much later. Since 1938, Coelacanths have been found in the Comoros, Indonesia, and elsewhere.
Today there is "a growing consensus among evolutionary biologists who have studied living specimens that Coelacanths are not missing links," says The Washington Post. The Post cites the British journal Nature, indicating that the "Coelacanth features putatively linking it to land animals are probably only coincidentally similar..."
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By A Customer on 19 Oct. 1999
Format: Hardcover
I guess that I could be classed as privileged at having been very close to the Coelacanth story during my early years, and still am to some extent.
Unfortunately though, having the whole thing on a plate in front of you, one often ends up accepting the story as no big deal, just the situation I found myself in. While my father eats and breaths the Coelacanth, quite frankly, I could not be bothered. Until now that is.
Reading the book, I was amazed at how much I did not know about the story. It is one of those books that I found very very difficult to put down once I had started. Many people will say that I am overdoing it, in which case, pick it up and try it yourself.
Samantha has managed to take a story that demands very little interest outside of the scientific world and turn it into an absolutely fantastic epic. Reading the book has taught me so much about a subject that I thought I knew already.
Well done Samantha, I'm sure that there are a lot more of these sort of subjects out there that could do with your writing abilities to generate interest in the non-scientific world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nana Knickerbocker on 13 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thoroughly recommend this book, having listened to the story adapted for BBC Radio 4 'Book of the week' some time ago, have wanted this book for some time. Easy to read and highly interesting the research that went into it. An incredible story of dedication to finding the truth of a fossilized fish called the Coelacanth that lived 40 million years ago, found to still exist in the 20th Century.
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By A Customer on 19 Aug. 1999
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book immensely. Samantha Weinberg's narrative history covers the sequence of events and the characters involved with good pace and a nice sense of dramatic tension. The only flaw I found in this book was the shallow dip into the scientific reasons that underpin the importance of the coelacanth, and why finding living specimens 70 million years after they were supposed to be extinct would catch the immediate attention of J.L.B. Smith. Although the ground is covered, more emphasis is placed on the media hyperbole, and subsequent eco-agonising, than the real science. One of the key issues that is not properly addressed is the repeated phenomenon of interested parties assuming "ownership" of the coelacanth, be it the French Government, self-important German submersible builders or crazy American adventure tourists. There's probably another good book to be written just about that effect. That aside, it's a great read and has some excellent characters.
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