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Seashells, stretching from the deep past into the present day, are touchstones leading into fascinating realms of the natural world and cutting-edge science. Members of the phylum Mollusca are among the most ancient animals on the planet. Their shells provide homes for other animals, and across the ages, people have used shells not only as trinkets but also as a form of mo Seashells, stretching from the deep past into the present day, are touchstones leading into fascinating realms of the natural world and cutting-edge science. Members of the phylum Mollusca are among the most ancient animals on the planet. Their shells provide homes for other animals, and across the ages, people have used shells not only as trinkets but also as a form of money, and as powerful symbols of sex and death, prestige and war. The science and natural history of shells are woven into a compelling narrative, revealing their cultural importance and the ways they have been used by humans over the millennia. (Seashells have even been tapped as a source of mind-bending drugs.) Marine biologist Helen Scales shows how seashells have been sculpted by the fundamental rules of mathematics and evolution; how they gave us color, gems, food, and new medicines. After surviving multiple mass extinctions millions of years ago, molluscs and their shells still face an onslaught of anthropogenic challenges, including climate change and corrosive oceans. But rather than dwelling on all that is lost, Scales emphasizes that seashells offer an accessible way to reconnect people with nature, helping to bridge the gap between ourselves and the living world. Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells shows why nature matters, and reveals the hidden wonders that you can hold in the palm of your hand.


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Seashells, stretching from the deep past into the present day, are touchstones leading into fascinating realms of the natural world and cutting-edge science. Members of the phylum Mollusca are among the most ancient animals on the planet. Their shells provide homes for other animals, and across the ages, people have used shells not only as trinkets but also as a form of mo Seashells, stretching from the deep past into the present day, are touchstones leading into fascinating realms of the natural world and cutting-edge science. Members of the phylum Mollusca are among the most ancient animals on the planet. Their shells provide homes for other animals, and across the ages, people have used shells not only as trinkets but also as a form of money, and as powerful symbols of sex and death, prestige and war. The science and natural history of shells are woven into a compelling narrative, revealing their cultural importance and the ways they have been used by humans over the millennia. (Seashells have even been tapped as a source of mind-bending drugs.) Marine biologist Helen Scales shows how seashells have been sculpted by the fundamental rules of mathematics and evolution; how they gave us color, gems, food, and new medicines. After surviving multiple mass extinctions millions of years ago, molluscs and their shells still face an onslaught of anthropogenic challenges, including climate change and corrosive oceans. But rather than dwelling on all that is lost, Scales emphasizes that seashells offer an accessible way to reconnect people with nature, helping to bridge the gap between ourselves and the living world. Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells shows why nature matters, and reveals the hidden wonders that you can hold in the palm of your hand.

30 review for Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X has been locked down for one full year

    I own quite a few books on shells and was really looking forward to this one. There was no reason at all that such a potentially fascinating subject about these beautiful and interesting creatures should have been such a mish-mash of dumbed-down information. I especially was interested in hermit crabs as I used to have some for pets and once actually had a shell "shop" (well they thought so anyway). I did learn that one of the ways they get new shells is if a big crab sees a shell it wants (and I own quite a few books on shells and was really looking forward to this one. There was no reason at all that such a potentially fascinating subject about these beautiful and interesting creatures should have been such a mish-mash of dumbed-down information. I especially was interested in hermit crabs as I used to have some for pets and once actually had a shell "shop" (well they thought so anyway). I did learn that one of the ways they get new shells is if a big crab sees a shell it wants (and might have to fight for) and there are a lot of other soldier crabs (local name) around they form queues from biggest to smallest. There might be several queues at a time. As the big crabs fight it out for the shell/s the littler ones continually swap queues 'as in a supermarket' as the author says, trying to be in the right lane. When one of the big crabs has his new shell and discards his slightly-too-tight one, the next biggest takes it, and the one after that takes the newly-discarded one and so on down the line. I would like to see this! This was so interesting I decided to bump up a very average 2 star to 2.5 and then round it up. If the rest of the book had lived up to this, I would have ordered it for my shop to go with all the shell, marine and beach guides, but I don't want my customers to be as disappointed as I was, so I'm not going to bother. I was deceived by the high average rating and I wouldn't want them to be too. Rant about high average ratings and freebies.(view spoiler)[ The average rating of this book is over 4 star, that always makes me suspicious and think that there were an awful lot of freebies. It's no good people saying that people do give 'an honest review in exchange for' the freebie because although some do (everyone on my friends' list certainly) because the majority just give it 4 or 5 stars, we all know that. Got to ensure those freebies keep on coming. And yes those high ratings and reviews do get the book noticed and perhaps sales so it is all the more disappointing when the book proves to be average, or even less. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Sea life is delightfully strange. You can tell how much fun Scales had writing lines like “Now, with no further need for mobility, the oyster reabsorbs its foot and grows huge gills” and “ecologists now routinely measure the length of wild female whelk penises as a gauge of environmental pollution.” This book contains both science and cultural history, so you get theories on how shells are formed and information on the biology and habits of creatures including mollusks, octopi, nautiluses, and s Sea life is delightfully strange. You can tell how much fun Scales had writing lines like “Now, with no further need for mobility, the oyster reabsorbs its foot and grows huge gills” and “ecologists now routinely measure the length of wild female whelk penises as a gauge of environmental pollution.” This book contains both science and cultural history, so you get theories on how shells are formed and information on the biology and habits of creatures including mollusks, octopi, nautiluses, and sea butterflies alongside stories of how shells have been used as decorations and currency through history. Scales travels to take part in an oyster festival in The Gambia and view sea-silk crafts in Italy, and discusses current threats to ocean health with a range of researchers. We don’t often hear about climate change’s effects on the sea, but pollution and acidification will force species to adapt in unknown ways. You’ll need a greater than average interest in marine life to make it through this book – I stalled for months on the nautilus chapter. However, the sprightly writing style and varied subject matter make it worth dipping into even if you don’t want to commit to reading the whole thing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b063z... Description: Marine biologist Dr Helen Scales tells the story of seashells; from the molluscs that create them to the humans who have used them as jewellery, symbol and even currency. Triton with his shell horn. 1/5: Helen Scales defines 'molluscs', one of the most ancient and successful animal groups on the planet. 2/5: The author considers the human use of shells - from jewellery via fertility symbol through to their link with a dark episode in huma BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b063z... Description: Marine biologist Dr Helen Scales tells the story of seashells; from the molluscs that create them to the humans who have used them as jewellery, symbol and even currency. Triton with his shell horn. 1/5: Helen Scales defines 'molluscs', one of the most ancient and successful animal groups on the planet. 2/5: The author considers the human use of shells - from jewellery via fertility symbol through to their link with a dark episode in human history. 3/5: Helen Scales investigates the bizarre world of the hermit crab and uncovers the truth behind the near-mythical substance 'sea silk'. 4/5: the impact of fossilised shells on agriculture and geology, peeking into the driven world of the shell collector. 5/5: Molluscs continue to surprise as researchers pursue medical advances, while scientists look to them as bellwethers of our impact on the seas. I especially enjoyed the myth of sea sheep giving us sea silk! Descartes logarithmic spiral

  4. 5 out of 5

    R K

    Another Fantastic Read by Helen Scales. Why did I chose to dive into the world of Molluscs? Why not? I will admit that the main reason why I picked up this book was because it was written by Helen Scales. I knew I would read something that was not only informative and entertaining, and I was not disappointed. Scales has an amazing way of being able to enrapture an audience whilst education them and trust me it's hard to do that. I ended up learning much more about the life cycles and importance of m Another Fantastic Read by Helen Scales. Why did I chose to dive into the world of Molluscs? Why not? I will admit that the main reason why I picked up this book was because it was written by Helen Scales. I knew I would read something that was not only informative and entertaining, and I was not disappointed. Scales has an amazing way of being able to enrapture an audience whilst education them and trust me it's hard to do that. I ended up learning much more about the life cycles and importance of molluscs. I also learned just how fragile the earth is. Nature, in all her glory, is built upon these small organisms that mediate and help stabilize so much that it would be impossible for her to be so chaotic without them. They contribute so much to the world and as always, we humans trample on it. Honestly, sometimes I feel that we really either kill and ignore or feel threatened and kill. There is no respect given. Thankfully, there are many dedicated men and women who are all doing their best to preserve and protect these seashells and little by little, their hard work is becoming successful and being recognized. If you've read her other book, Poseidon's Steed, then you will enjoy this book too. It follows the same structure in that Scales brings in the cultural, historical, scientific, and her own experiences and weaves them into a fascinating tale. Sometimes, I think that school textbooks should be replaced with these types of books because they are...well...better. However, there are small areas that could have been improved The first being, to add more illustrations/pictures. Despite enjoying the book, it was difficult at times to imagine what the mollusc she was referring to looked like. Yes, I know google exists. However, some species are extinct which mean google imagines will show you a whole variety of what people think that species looks like. Not very helpful when a biologist goes into detail about the physiology of a species when you don't even know what it looks like. The second issue is more of a personal one. For some reason, this book felt a little disoriented in comparison to her first book. Poseidon's Steed, seemed to integrate the various aspects of seahorses (science, culture, etc.) much more seamlessly, then this book. It might just be me and it didn't take any enjoyment away from the book, but it was just something my brain kept picking at. A NOTE Scale's mentions this at the end of the book but I felt it needed to be said here too. If you go to a store and they have a genuine seashell in pristine condition (regardless of size), that seashell was NOT randomly found by a seashell collector/diver but actually taken off of a real mollusc. In other words, that creature was purposely killed in order to harvest their shell just so it can be sold......If you collect seashells, please be mindful of that. These creatures are very much unknown to scientist yet, most agree that they are disappearing at a faster rate than predicted. Please be mindful of the fact that you are not the only creature on this planet that is trying its best to survive.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    A really fantastic book. Scales combines stories of biology and of the people doing the biology seamlessly into an informative and enjoyable narrative. I recommend this for fans of marine biology, science history, and/or general environmental biology. Approachable enough for the lay person, informative enough for the more technical reader.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBc Radio 4 - Book of the Week:Marine biologist Dr Helen Scales tells the story of seashells; from the molluscs that create them to the humans who have used them as jewellery, symbol and even currency. Episode 1 Helen Scales defines 'molluscs', one of the most ancient and successful animal groups on the planet. Episode 2 The author considers the human use of shells - from jewellery via fertility symbol through to their link with a dark episode in human history. Episode 3 Helen Scales investigates From BBc Radio 4 - Book of the Week:Marine biologist Dr Helen Scales tells the story of seashells; from the molluscs that create them to the humans who have used them as jewellery, symbol and even currency. Episode 1 Helen Scales defines 'molluscs', one of the most ancient and successful animal groups on the planet. Episode 2 The author considers the human use of shells - from jewellery via fertility symbol through to their link with a dark episode in human history. Episode 3 Helen Scales investigates the bizarre world of the hermit crab and uncovers the truth behind the near-mythical substance 'sea silk'. Episode 4 Helen Scales explores the impact of fossilised shells on agriculture and geology, and peeks into the driven world of the shell collector. Episode 5 Molluscs continue to surprise as researchers pursue medical advances, while scientists look to them as bellwethers of our impact on the seas. Written and read by Helen Scales Abridged by Sian Preece Producer: Eilidh McCreadie Helen Scales' doctorate involved searching for giant, endangered fish in Borneo; she's also tagged sharks in California, and once spent a year cataloguing all the marine life she could find surrounding a hundred islands in the Andaman Sea. Helen appears regularly on BBC Radio 4 on programmes such as 'Inside Science' and 'Shared Planet' and has presented documentaries on topics such as whether people will ever live underwater, the science of making and surfing waves and the intricacies of sharks' minds. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b064mg4p

  7. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    If you like seashells, you've GOT to read this book! It's informative & entertaining, & should be an easy read for mid-graders on up. I recommend this book to everyone! If you like seashells, you've GOT to read this book! It's informative & entertaining, & should be an easy read for mid-graders on up. I recommend this book to everyone!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nicola

    The premise of the book intrigued me somewhat and as a person who only looks at a shell going ‘oooo pretty’ at most, my interest in them hasn’t really gone much farther than that. However, Im always up for learning and reading about an area which I know very little and have little grounding of so this book was absolutely perfect to learn more about this subject matter. I’ve always been interested in marine biology too and as a scientist (not in marine biology!) I’ve always been a natural data an The premise of the book intrigued me somewhat and as a person who only looks at a shell going ‘oooo pretty’ at most, my interest in them hasn’t really gone much farther than that. However, Im always up for learning and reading about an area which I know very little and have little grounding of so this book was absolutely perfect to learn more about this subject matter. I’ve always been interested in marine biology too and as a scientist (not in marine biology!) I’ve always been a natural data and knowledge gatherer which spurred me on to read this book. I can now count myself amongst the lovers of seashells after venturing into the hidden depths of this world and the secret lives they often lead. I now definitely see them in a different light and I absolutely loved learning more about this topic. The authors infectious enthusiasm for the field was catching, and learning about shells is not nearly as boring as you might think! It certainly held my interest and was incredibly interesting in my opinion. I realise it might not be for everybody but for all those with an interest in marine science or a love of shells and ecology, this is a perfect read. I loved reading about individual scientists specific areas of study, the stories of around the world travels and their finds as well as the history and finding shells in archeological digs and their significances. I also really enjoyed reading about pharmaceutical applications with a whole variety of marine and shell life finds. Really glad I read this in the end!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    This slim book offers a fine-but-not-spectacular introduction to the world of molluscs. It's accessible even for the non-scientific reader; by the time you reach this question -- "Could other calcifiers adapt to acidifying waters like coccolithophores?" (p. 277) -- you've been well-prepared to nod in general understanding. While the author's enthusiasm for her subject is obvious, it's not particularly contagious; I came away feeling a bit more educated (particularly about cone snail toxins!), bu This slim book offers a fine-but-not-spectacular introduction to the world of molluscs. It's accessible even for the non-scientific reader; by the time you reach this question -- "Could other calcifiers adapt to acidifying waters like coccolithophores?" (p. 277) -- you've been well-prepared to nod in general understanding. While the author's enthusiasm for her subject is obvious, it's not particularly contagious; I came away feeling a bit more educated (particularly about cone snail toxins!), but not especially inspired. Recommended mostly for molluscophiles and beachgoers who wonder what they're crunching to dust beneath their bare feet.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    I have been collection shells and shell books my entire life, but was totally enthralled by the stories and lyrical writing in this book. It included information I knew but written so beautifully that I was delighted to read about the topic. There were also many stories that I did not know and found Helen Scales to be the perfect person to tell them to me. Even if you are not interested in seashells, the stories and information about our natural world would be of interest to anyone.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rakie Keig

    Optional subtitle: Molluscs, more interesting than you might think. This is a surprisingly fascinating look into seashells and the creatures that build them, told in an entertaining and insightful way by someone with obvious enthusiasm for the subject. I now have a good repertoire of interesting facts about sea creatures which I can bring out at dinner parties. Recommended to everyone - if you're not a mollusc fan, you should be. Optional subtitle: Molluscs, more interesting than you might think. This is a surprisingly fascinating look into seashells and the creatures that build them, told in an entertaining and insightful way by someone with obvious enthusiasm for the subject. I now have a good repertoire of interesting facts about sea creatures which I can bring out at dinner parties. Recommended to everyone - if you're not a mollusc fan, you should be.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sugarpuss O'Shea

    **4.5 Stars** I used to go shelling with my Grandma as a kid. I pick it up again about a decade ago, which means I was fortunate enough to have a few samples to inspect whilst reading this book. (It helps to have visual aids when you get to the part about why which way a shell spirals is important when it comes to mollusk reproduction.) And while I could've lived without knowing about sea silks, what I learned about cones still blows my mind..... All in all, this is a highly readable book with to **4.5 Stars** I used to go shelling with my Grandma as a kid. I pick it up again about a decade ago, which means I was fortunate enough to have a few samples to inspect whilst reading this book. (It helps to have visual aids when you get to the part about why which way a shell spirals is important when it comes to mollusk reproduction.) And while I could've lived without knowing about sea silks, what I learned about cones still blows my mind..... All in all, this is a highly readable book with tons of information that even the most knowledgeable conchologist would find fascinating.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sophy H

    This book was bloody fantastic! Who would have thought seashells could be so captivating?! This reminds me of the Peter Godfrey Smith book about octopus and other eight armed sea creatures in its attention to detail, its accidental humour and amazing trivia. Do I mind that Helen Scales creates a somewhat anthropomorphic stance towards underwater creatures? No I do not, they are bloody amazing!! I really like Helen's writing, its fresh, natural and not trying to be overly scientific or condescend This book was bloody fantastic! Who would have thought seashells could be so captivating?! This reminds me of the Peter Godfrey Smith book about octopus and other eight armed sea creatures in its attention to detail, its accidental humour and amazing trivia. Do I mind that Helen Scales creates a somewhat anthropomorphic stance towards underwater creatures? No I do not, they are bloody amazing!! I really like Helen's writing, its fresh, natural and not trying to be overly scientific or condescending to a non-expert audience. This line for example made me giggle:- "they generally creep around on a single foot with a mouth on the underside"!!! I imagine in my mind, a lil oozing creature mooching about the ocean bed on one solitary foot, like Marvin the paranoid android, all the while munching on bits of ocean detritus like a maddened Cookie monster with its mouth on its foot!!! Awww!!! I love nature books in general, and this one did not disappoint. A definite 5 stars.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Miranda Murphy

    Recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about mollusks I really enjoyed this book. I especially liked learning about some of the wild adaptations that mollusks have and also about the huge role that seashells have played throughout human history. Some parts were a bit dense to get through for me but overall great!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Snoakes

    This is easily the best book I've read so far this year. Helen Scales covers a wide range of topics as she tells us about molluscs in all their forms. How they make their shells, the patterns on them, the shellfish we eat and other uses man has made of them, their predators, how they hunt and how they will cope in the face of ocean acidification - a little talked about effect of global warming - it's endlessly fascinating. If you've ever picked up a shell on a beach and popped it into your pocket This is easily the best book I've read so far this year. Helen Scales covers a wide range of topics as she tells us about molluscs in all their forms. How they make their shells, the patterns on them, the shellfish we eat and other uses man has made of them, their predators, how they hunt and how they will cope in the face of ocean acidification - a little talked about effect of global warming - it's endlessly fascinating. If you've ever picked up a shell on a beach and popped it into your pocket then this is for you.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Judith

    Dr. Scales writes very clearly and easily so that those unfamiliar with shells (and even if you think you are you will learn a lot from this book!) can follow the life cycles, evolution, ecological implications and more. She is clearly in love with shells and her enthusiasm for them shines through. The book is charmingly illustrated by line drawings and by color pictures--would that there were more of them! I was charmed by the sea butterfly and the sea angel and intrigued by the photo of the No Dr. Scales writes very clearly and easily so that those unfamiliar with shells (and even if you think you are you will learn a lot from this book!) can follow the life cycles, evolution, ecological implications and more. She is clearly in love with shells and her enthusiasm for them shines through. The book is charmingly illustrated by line drawings and by color pictures--would that there were more of them! I was charmed by the sea butterfly and the sea angel and intrigued by the photo of the Noble Sea Pen,a not beautiful creature whose byssus can be spun and woven into golden fabric. Even if you are in a land-locked state as I am, you will become, I think, more curious about the curious mollusks; remember there are land mollusks too, which Dr. Scales discusses to a certain extent. Her comments on how the acidification of the ocean, over-fishing, ocean pollution and the like are affecting mollusks are worrying, even if some mollusks seem to be unaffected or even flourishing with this. Well worth reading!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sylvie

    This book is strong on the need for an ecological approach to our life on earth. There have always been fluctuations in climate, in the populations of the oceans and seas,in the survival of species, but what distinguishes our era from previous ones is the alarming acceleration of the process of change and decline. It's full of curious facts about molluscs and shells, the myths that are associated with marine creatures, and interesting anecdotes. We learn how certain molluscs grow their shells, t This book is strong on the need for an ecological approach to our life on earth. There have always been fluctuations in climate, in the populations of the oceans and seas,in the survival of species, but what distinguishes our era from previous ones is the alarming acceleration of the process of change and decline. It's full of curious facts about molluscs and shells, the myths that are associated with marine creatures, and interesting anecdotes. We learn how certain molluscs grow their shells, the logic and purpose of the intricate designs, how some of these creatures use their strange appendages. The marine worlld is as strange, if not stranger than life on dry land. A really comprehensive study. I should add that it is very readable and entertaining.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    I feel bad rating this book so poorly, as I enjoy the fun, casual tone and found a lot of information to be interesting, but this reads like a first draft. Chapters wander from subject to subject with minimal cohesion, and the author was entirely unable to exclude any bit of information that she uncovered while researching, however trivial. The assortment of topics is bizarre, ranging from species profiles, to biographies of scientists, to anecdotes of the author's travels. There's a good book i I feel bad rating this book so poorly, as I enjoy the fun, casual tone and found a lot of information to be interesting, but this reads like a first draft. Chapters wander from subject to subject with minimal cohesion, and the author was entirely unable to exclude any bit of information that she uncovered while researching, however trivial. The assortment of topics is bizarre, ranging from species profiles, to biographies of scientists, to anecdotes of the author's travels. There's a good book in here somewhere, but as it stands this is pretty rough.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gail Kennon

    absolutley loved the first 2/3rd or so with it's wonderful revelations about shells..but then it took a bit of turn and dwelt more on climate change..which i think is terribly important but i actually think more about shells would have done more good with folks who may still need to be won over. and i'd have had more fun reading and learning. absolutley loved the first 2/3rd or so with it's wonderful revelations about shells..but then it took a bit of turn and dwelt more on climate change..which i think is terribly important but i actually think more about shells would have done more good with folks who may still need to be won over. and i'd have had more fun reading and learning.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maura Heaphy Dutton

    I'm struggling to explain to myself why I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would. Seashells! What's not to love? First off, I think I should make it clear that it was neither difficulty nor dryness: some low-star reviews complain that it's booooring and "reads like a textbook." (Oh, horrors ...) I am always up for some reading outside my comfort zone, and I understand that I'm going to have to put in some effort. And I accept that I might not absorb and retain every single word -- if I em I'm struggling to explain to myself why I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would. Seashells! What's not to love? First off, I think I should make it clear that it was neither difficulty nor dryness: some low-star reviews complain that it's booooring and "reads like a textbook." (Oh, horrors ...) I am always up for some reading outside my comfort zone, and I understand that I'm going to have to put in some effort. And I accept that I might not absorb and retain every single word -- if I emerge from the experience with an insight into something new, I am happy. So, not difficult or dry: in fact, if there was one thing that grated, it was Scales' efforts to be accessible and "relatable." Dumbed down, "cutesy" word choices, pop culture references that seems forced and arbitrary. Personal anecdotes that were making a point ... how? And that leads me to the other problem I had: with the book's organization. Scales did her thesis no favours by bouncing around, from the deepest fossil record, to historical researchers of molluscs and shells, to uses that shells have been put to over the millennia (low-brow, high art, culture and spirituality, and everything in-between), to modern science and ecology, and the place that shell studies have in research on climate change. I didn't feel that she gave her arguments, and her evidence, a chance. Having said that -- I came away with two fantastic images. First, the hermit crab "vacancy chain," where " a gaggle of hermit crabs clustered around a bit empty shell will sort themselves into a size-ordered line" and eventually, after some jockeying for position, all move up one size shell. There's a great metaphor there, and Scales is at her best in those pages, clear and genuinely funny. The other was this marvellous little take-away, about the mollusc nervous system -- "... densely tangled nerves known as ganglia ... come as close as you will ever get to a general mollusc brain (the ganglia fuse to form a ring though which the oesophagus passes, which means that when a snail swallows, its food goes right though its mind." I have days when I feel like that. So, worth reading, but could have been better, and more memorable.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bob Uva

    When I vacation in a spot of natural beauty, as I did on Washingon's Lopez Island in September, I'm inspired by the gifts of nature and I try to find a book that will allow me to continue in my mind the feelings I get from the natural world. Spirals in Time was fortunately displayed in the science and nature section of the island's (probably) only bookstore and it seemed the perfect companion for my post-vacation idle time. The author, Helen Scales, really threw herself into this book I thought! When I vacation in a spot of natural beauty, as I did on Washingon's Lopez Island in September, I'm inspired by the gifts of nature and I try to find a book that will allow me to continue in my mind the feelings I get from the natural world. Spirals in Time was fortunately displayed in the science and nature section of the island's (probably) only bookstore and it seemed the perfect companion for my post-vacation idle time. The author, Helen Scales, really threw herself into this book I thought! Each chapter made me feel as if I were on a journey of discovery and marvel. Little did I know about the seashells that I have picked up on many a beach. From an introduction to molluscs to their mating habits, food and shelter choices, I learned so much. Halfway or thereabouts through the book I wondered what else the author will introduce me to. The wonderful stories of the Noble Pen Shell and sea-silk were maybe the highlight for me of the ensuing chapters. The author, however, does a marvelous job of weaving these vignettes of molluscan life with human history that the book continues to the very end to inspire me. The last chapter on the sea butterfly effect was a coherent and clear introduction to the effects of climate change on ocean life, and touches upon some of the important work being done by scientists in this area. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book even though it did take me two months to complete. I blame the internet for that, not the author. In fact, I've already bought and started reading the author's recently-released book on the Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures.

  22. 4 out of 5

    B. Rule

    This is a decent natural history pop-sci book that is buoyed up by the author's obvious enthusiasm. Scales clearly has a passion for mollusks and gastropods, and she excitedly delves into the details of scientific studies and ecological cycles. Frankly, sometimes it's a little too much for a reader with a passing interest. I don't always need the full history of how facts about a particular species were learned; I just want to know the cool facts. That said, you have to respect the effort to enl This is a decent natural history pop-sci book that is buoyed up by the author's obvious enthusiasm. Scales clearly has a passion for mollusks and gastropods, and she excitedly delves into the details of scientific studies and ecological cycles. Frankly, sometimes it's a little too much for a reader with a passing interest. I don't always need the full history of how facts about a particular species were learned; I just want to know the cool facts. That said, you have to respect the effort to enliven the pattern of these kinds of books with a little behind-the-scenes color. The writing style is mostly clear and unfussy. I read this on Kindle so it may be an issue specific to that format, but I did wish for more illustrations to flesh out the descriptions in the text. It's a minor complaint in the age of Google Images. Read it for the descriptions of venomous harpoon-shooting cone snails, the myth and reality of sea silk, and the diverse cultural uses of spondylus shells. Although Scales mentions Aztec sacrificial victims wearing spondylus necklaces, she doesn't note that Mayan elites also used them for ritual bloodletting (including slashing the penis). A surprising omission in a text that otherwise doesn't shy away the gloriously strange and macabre.

  23. 4 out of 5

    CA

    I didn't know anything in particular about seashells or most of the animals talked about in the book before reading it, but I was delighted by a lot of cool mollusc facts and some portraits of people involved with them while reading it. The author can paint a good picture - I especially liked the metaphor of hermit crabs approaching lines for bigger shells like supermarket shoppers trying to figure out which line is the fastest - and I could feel her enthusiasm for the subject coming through. I I didn't know anything in particular about seashells or most of the animals talked about in the book before reading it, but I was delighted by a lot of cool mollusc facts and some portraits of people involved with them while reading it. The author can paint a good picture - I especially liked the metaphor of hermit crabs approaching lines for bigger shells like supermarket shoppers trying to figure out which line is the fastest - and I could feel her enthusiasm for the subject coming through. I also liked the section on the history of sea-silk and how it doesn't have only one last true spinner reamining, as it was something I'd heard about before, though not in great detail. There were, as typical in this genre, some anecdotes of her personal travels to see molluscs, but not to the point where I found it annoying. One star off mostly because the edition I bought, at least (digital), does not appear to have been properly copy-edited; there were a lot of missing commas and occasional other punctuation mistakes. It wasn't enough to make it unreadable, but it did impede my reading experience.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jolene Leong

    It was amazing!! Helen Scales (a fitting name for a scientist with an inclination for the sea life) wrote a beautiful book that was magical, factual, and inspiring. I think what was really fun was also to google alongside what she was talking about to see and match what she was talking about. I also enjoyed looking up the Conchologia iconia (is that the name?) which has an online version (someone meticulously scanned the entire thing and even added tags). I never knew there was so much to know a It was amazing!! Helen Scales (a fitting name for a scientist with an inclination for the sea life) wrote a beautiful book that was magical, factual, and inspiring. I think what was really fun was also to google alongside what she was talking about to see and match what she was talking about. I also enjoyed looking up the Conchologia iconia (is that the name?) which has an online version (someone meticulously scanned the entire thing and even added tags). I never knew there was so much to know about molluscs, and that cephalopods were molluscs as well. The book talks on every day things, to the business industry, to food production, to basic biology, and every day observations and stories. I think I really appreciated when she added her own experiences, like how one person couldn't tell her friend's name (Helena) and her name apart. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don't recommend this for everybody because it is indeed a heavy book, but definitely worth the read if they can sit through it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    jodi beltrani

    Fascinating I was looking for an interesting, informative read; one that would hold my attention, but not keep me awake at night, the way some fiction stories do. I couldn't tell you how I came across this book on my Kindle, but I am so glad I did. I'm not a shell collector, of even a shell enthusiast. But I enjoy learning new things, and learned quite a bit from reading this book. I found myself so interested in many of the topics that I did more research after finishing the book. I especially e Fascinating I was looking for an interesting, informative read; one that would hold my attention, but not keep me awake at night, the way some fiction stories do. I couldn't tell you how I came across this book on my Kindle, but I am so glad I did. I'm not a shell collector, of even a shell enthusiast. But I enjoy learning new things, and learned quite a bit from reading this book. I found myself so interested in many of the topics that I did more research after finishing the book. I especially enjoyed reading about sea-silk and sea-butterflies. What I enjoyed most, though, is the author's voice. She is very detailed and descriptive, and writes with a quiet humor that made me want to keep reading. I just bought another of her books. This would be a good choice for a shell collector, marine biology enthusiast, or the the type of NPR book-geek (like me) who loves to learn.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cler

    A very interesting and cool book! It made me appreciate shells and the animals that once lived in them. I recommend giving it a read for that alone, good for the coming summer months before we head to the beach. It is relatively short and easy to read for anyone from a non-science background. My only qualm was that I wish there were a few more pictures for us inlanders and non-marine biologists within the chapters itself. The author describes the animals she references, but it really takes a pict A very interesting and cool book! It made me appreciate shells and the animals that once lived in them. I recommend giving it a read for that alone, good for the coming summer months before we head to the beach. It is relatively short and easy to read for anyone from a non-science background. My only qualm was that I wish there were a few more pictures for us inlanders and non-marine biologists within the chapters itself. The author describes the animals she references, but it really takes a picture to do these creatures justice. This isn't too much of a problem, though. I recommend having a phone or computer with Google images open for reference, and just type in any species name as you come across it. It's worth it for creatures like sea butterflies and the iron snail, plus of course all the beautiful shells.

  27. 5 out of 5

    kat

    The author struggles to find a consistent voice and doesn't seem to have much of a sense for what makes a compelling narrative. There's not really a coherent overarching organization that would tie the various subjects or narratives to each other, even within the chapters she changes subjects very abruptly. She doesn't seem to know which parts of her story will actually be interesting to a casual reader, often barely mentioning a quite compelling fact or story, only to dwell for ages on the ins The author struggles to find a consistent voice and doesn't seem to have much of a sense for what makes a compelling narrative. There's not really a coherent overarching organization that would tie the various subjects or narratives to each other, even within the chapters she changes subjects very abruptly. She doesn't seem to know which parts of her story will actually be interesting to a casual reader, often barely mentioning a quite compelling fact or story, only to dwell for ages on the ins and outs of some minor historical disagreement among researchers, for example. That all being said, the subject matter is inherently fascinating. I learned some interesting facts, and for $2, this was a good beach read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Garrett Haynes

    Way more fascinating than one might think. During certain descriptions in the book it feels like you are reading about aliens. We have so many amazing creatures on this planet it makes mes wonder why people can become so fascinated by aliens, I guess it's more about the fact that it would be amazing if there was life on another planet. WE still don't know everything about our incredible creatures her and it makes me realize if I were a scientist there is still plenty left to explore. I don't kno Way more fascinating than one might think. During certain descriptions in the book it feels like you are reading about aliens. We have so many amazing creatures on this planet it makes mes wonder why people can become so fascinated by aliens, I guess it's more about the fact that it would be amazing if there was life on another planet. WE still don't know everything about our incredible creatures her and it makes me realize if I were a scientist there is still plenty left to explore. I don't know if anyone else has this problem but sometimes I feel less fascinated about the world than I should because so much has already been explored and discovered. There is still plenty to find though! There are still many new species to discover which is exciting.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    I found this book in a bargain bin, at Chapters and looked forward to read it as I have always found shells to be attractive and interesting. Overall I found "Spirals in time" to be an average book. It did teach me a little bit more about shells - they're almost exclusively "right handed", mussels produce a super strong glue to anchor them to rocks etc., and the venom from cone shells - has a number of medical applications. That said, I think it meandered a lot, and even took off on tangents exe I found this book in a bargain bin, at Chapters and looked forward to read it as I have always found shells to be attractive and interesting. Overall I found "Spirals in time" to be an average book. It did teach me a little bit more about shells - they're almost exclusively "right handed", mussels produce a super strong glue to anchor them to rocks etc., and the venom from cone shells - has a number of medical applications. That said, I think it meandered a lot, and even took off on tangents exemplified by the story of sea-silk.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jim Puskas

    The best book on natural history that I've read in many years. Scholarly without being at all pedantic. Completely engrossing, it introduced me to an astonishing world of undersea life, connecting those fascinating artifacts that many of us have picked up along the shore with such diverse themes as paleontology, ancient trade routes, marine ecology and even the 17th century slave trade. Most fascinating of all for me was the lifestyle, reproduction strategies and adaptations of the vast array of The best book on natural history that I've read in many years. Scholarly without being at all pedantic. Completely engrossing, it introduced me to an astonishing world of undersea life, connecting those fascinating artifacts that many of us have picked up along the shore with such diverse themes as paleontology, ancient trade routes, marine ecology and even the 17th century slave trade. Most fascinating of all for me was the lifestyle, reproduction strategies and adaptations of the vast array of creatures generally classed as molluscs and the beautiful, iconic shells that they leave behind.

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