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Travels with Trilobites

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ravels with Trilobites is full of unbridled enthusiasm that any trilobite aficionado will undoubtedly appreciate. And Andy Secher is absolutely a trilobite enthusiast — a field associate in paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and coeditor of their trilobite website, with his own quite impressive trilobite collection. It’s obvious that he would consider trilobites one of the best things since a few hundred million years before sliced bread, and he gladly includes many pictures from his own extensive collection of fossils: “They’re being displayed merely because of each trilobite’s inherent beauty and stunning strangeness, qualities that make them more than worthy of being seen, studied, collected, and admired.” 250 million years of trilobites ruling the seas — that makes us Homo Sapiens barely a blip on the life radar.

“From their initial moments on Earth some 521 million year ago, few animals were ever as evolutionarily “perfect” in their morphological design as that fascinating organism known as the trilobite.”

He lets his love of these weird Paleozoic creature shine throughout the book, and doesn’t stop even at Dad jokes to show how awesome he thinks they are (if you know me, you understand that I find Dad jokes just lovely; I’m an honorary Dad when it comes to jokes, really).

“Some trilobites were designed like a hydrodynamic rocket ship, and others resembled nothing more than a primordial meatloaf.”

The problem, however, is me. Apparently, as I found out, I’m not as much a member of “Paleozoically inclined people” as I had hoped. It seems that my interests lean a bit more Mezozoic, and despite loving everything about dinosaurs I tend to zone out quite a bit when trilobites take center stage. Well, you love what you love.

My attention did perk up a bit more in the end when Secher was discussing difficulties with acquiring trilobites fossils due to countries starting to treat these as “national treasures”, the paucity of sone museums collections, and the difficulty of extracting fossils. That was quite interesting and I wish he spent a bit more time on it.

And the photos are indeed gorgeous.

So if you love trilobites, you will probably love this book. If, like me, you turn out to be indifferent to them, you may find yourself a bit bored. So it’s not the book; it’s probably me.

3 stars.

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Thanks to NetGalley and Columbia University Press for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Trilobites are magnificent bundles of cuteness and wonderful sources of information about our planet’s history. Trilobite fossils are abundant across the world. They thrived for eras, evolving into more and more complex species. The oldest fossils had a basic form but over the millenia they grew eyes and armour. They also lived in all marine environments from the deep to the shallow. Trilobite morphology helps us understand what was occuring during their evolution. Were the spikes for protection from predators or merely to attract mates? Why were some eyeless while others had complex eyes? Some of them sounded sci-fi-like. 

Secher describes the differences between trilobite species and what that means. The information is set out according to geological eras and locations that have unearthed remarkable specimens. He also provides insights into predation, environmental change, mass extinction and so much more. Almost every page has a photo of a trilobite like a catalogue. 

The one thing that impresses me most about trilobites is how these marine creatures died in the ocean, only to be found in the ground in inland places of high elevation like Bolivia. I think this would make for interesting conversation. 

This non-fiction book contains science but is written more from a collectors point of view and uses casual language rather than bombarding readers with overly scientific language. I think most readers would enjoy the photography and captions. I think a good appreciation of trilobites is needed to get through all of the content.

Thanks to NetGalley and Columbia University Press for providing me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Prior to reading this book I had only a passing interest in and very little experience with trilobite fossils.  I love hiking and rock hounding and have found other (nontrilobite) fossils so this book looked intresting.  

"Travels With Trilobites" was part fun science lesson, part world travel adventure, part picture book!  I read it all the way through from beginning to end, but this would also work well as a reference book because there are many dozens of pictures of trilobite fossils that are meticulously labeled, as well as text sections dedicated to widely varied subjects including fake trilobite fossils, fossil prices, legal implications of fossil collecting, difficulty of reaching certain fossil rich areas, and museum collections versus private collections.

This book inspired me to purchase my first trilobite fossil from a rock shop in Scottsdate, AZ while I was there visiting.  I'm hooked!
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Travels with Trilobites: Adventures in the Paleozoic by Andy Secher is a nonfiction book. Trilobites were among the most successful and versatile organisms ever to exist. Among the earliest forms of complex animal life, these hard-shelled marine invertebrates inhabited the primal seas of the Paleozoic era. Their march through evolutionary time began in the Lower Cambrian, some 521 million years ago, and lasted until their demise at the end of the Permian, more than 250 million years later. During this vast stretch of planetary history, these adaptable animals filled virtually every available undersea ecological niche, evolving into more than 25,000 scientifically recognized species. Explore paleontological hot spots around the world—including Alnif, Morocco, on the edge of the Sahara Desert; the Sakha Republic, deep in the Siberian wilderness; and Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia—and get a behind-the-scenes look at museums, fossil shows, and life on the collectors’ circuit. The book features hundreds of photographs of unique specimens drawn from Secher’s private collection, showcasing stunning fossil finds that highlight the diversity, complexity, and beauty of trilobites.

Travels with Trilobites offers readers information and some entertainment. The text is accessible and  explains scientific information about trilobites with observations and insight about the collections and all that goes along with them. There is a great deal to cover here- since there were so many kinds of trilobites and they lived for so long, in so many places. I liked that the book was organized choreographically and that there were some subsections that went into greater detail on specific topics. I thought the information was understandable, and that Secher's enthusiasm and humor often shone through. Sometimes that enthusiasm got to be a bit much, but I kind of love it when the people around me geek out about the things they are passionate about- and it reminded me of that kind of conversation. I found the images to be fascinating and well chosen, and I think any reader interested in the topic, or related fields, will find this an engaging and informative read. I think that many will find Secher's enthusiasm and interest in the topic to spark a little in themselves. I liked the inclusion of a glossary and list of museums to visit, with information on the trilobites in their collection. I thought that was helpful and interesting for readers.
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6/10 stars

My full review on my blog (link attached).

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… 😀

[...]

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.

[...]

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!
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Thank you to NetGalley and Columbia University Press for this advance review copy.

Impressively researched, beautifully photographed, and wonderfully entertaining!

I've always been a Paleozoic nerd with a fascination for trilobites, and Andy Secher's TRAVELS WITH TRILOBITES is an excellent addition to my "bug" book collection. The author's expertise is impressive and his enthusiasm infectious, and his love for these ancient animals shines through in both his prose and wonderfully photographed fossils.

I particularly enjoyed the "travels" theme, as most of what I've read on paleontology focuses on the animals and not the environments in which their remains were discovered. This book took me to far eastern Russia, remote areas of China, Canada's Burgess Shale and South Australia, which was one of the most entertaining aspects of this book. (Also, I now really, really want to take a trip to Kangaroo Island.) 

I read this in ebook form, but once it's available, I'm definitely getting myself a hardcover. (Also, if Columbia ever releases a book on the Ediacaran, I'll be first in line.)

A fantastic reading experience, and I look forward to this author's coming books!
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"Travels with Trilobites" is a very informative, accessible text that both experts and amateurs are bound to enjoy.

Secher strikes the perfect tone - not too academic but not too conversational - in order to share his love and knowledge of trilobites with experts and novices alike. If you're new to the topic, or only have a trifling of knowledge (like myself), this book is bound to be an exciting read that may very well kickstart a new fascination with prehistoric fauna. In fact, by the time I reached the Silurian period, I was completely hooked and had already started searching "how to find trilobites near me".

The accompanying photographs are absolutely stunning and I could honestly spend hours revisiting them alone.

My only criticism is the lack of diagrams. It would have been nice to see a general anatomy diagram or perhaps a diagram of one or two select species from each time period. As a novice, I found myself really wanting to know what parts of the trilobite I was looking at and ended up searching for diagrams online to refer to as I read.

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable, easy to understand, but highly informative, book and I look forward to adding it to my bookcase.

Thank you to NetGalley, Columbia University Press, and Andy Secher for giving me a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Links will be updated the week of publication. Release date locally is May 24th.
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Like the title implies, Travels with Trilobites, is a journey. It’s a journey back through time. It’s a journey across the globe. And it’s a love letter to one of the most important and fascinating prehistoric creatures to grace planet Earth, the trilobites. And don’t mention hundreds of stunning photographs!

Secher takes us on a journey through each Paleozoic period, guiding us across the globe to the paleontological sites where the fossilized remains of these ancient arthropods have been discovered. He celebrates the scientists who dedicate their lives to discovering, understanding and preparing the fossils. He gives an in depth look at Trilobite collecting, both public and private, and shares the thoughts and observations of fellow collectors and scientists. He explores topics like what life was like for the ancient arthropods, their anatomy, differences between species, predation, feeding behavior and so forth. So many questions I had about trilobites were explored and answered in this book. I really felt like I was on a private tour and being given a behind the scenes look at all things trilobite.

For the layperson or casual enthusiast, who isn't enveloped in the science world, any book grounded in prehistory and science can feel intimidating or dry. ‘Travels in Trilobites’ was neither of these things. It was both informative and entertaining. Secher’s writing is warm and inviting. It’s easy to understand for those who simply have a casual interest in trilobites, yet, its depth makes it perfect for the serious enthusiasts and longtime collectors as well. 

The thing I loved the most about this book is the way that Andy Secher’s passion for trilobites comes through on every page. It’s infectious and shines a light on these fascinating marine organisms, who don’t often get mainstream attention. As a casual trilobite enthusiast, my love and appreciation for these fascinating creatures grew after reading this book.

While reading, I referenced a Trilobite Geographical Time Scale, just to keep the periods of the Paleozoic straight. I also referenced a Pictorial Guide to the Orders and Suborders and a map that showed all the Trilobite localities around the world (all on www.trilobite.info). This probably wouldn’t even be a necessity for a seasoned trilobite enthusiast, so I understand why diagrams like this weren’t included, they are easy enough to access online.

I have so much admiration for the research and hard work that went into this book and all those in the trilobite world who make it possible for the rest of us to enjoy.

I read this as an ebook, but because of the hundreds of beautiful photos, I recommend a physical copy. 

Thank you Netgalley, Columbia University Press and Andy Secher.
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When I learned of trilobites in school, I was under the impression that a trilobite is a trilobite is a trilobite. I was so very, very wrong, and this book does a great job of showing me how wrong I was. Through the many beautiful photographs of fossils and thorough descriptions, the book highlights how diverse these creatures were. I loved the author’s enthusiasm and found it contagious. The description of places is also excellent. I also enjoyed the discussion around finding fossils and the people who sought them out. I did find, however, that there were not enough descriptions of basic anatomy and some of these were scattered throughout the book. I did not find the writing conversational enough for my taste, with writing frequently too literary, with some long sentences that were difficult to parse. Overall, though this is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the subject matter and I think it would make a great gift for enthusiasts. Thank you to Netgalley and Columbia University Press for the digital review copy.
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As a paleobiologist/artist with a special fondness for trilobites, I thought I knew quite a bit about these fascinating invertebrates who flourished for nearly 270 million years in Earth’s oceans. Andy Secher knows considerably more. Secher provides an impressive tour of locations around the world where one can find the fossilized remains of these creatures, delves into what scientists know about trilobite biology—including molting, reproduction, locomotion, and vision—illustrating his musings with outstanding photographs from his personal collection of over 4,000 fossils. Yes, Secher is an avid collector. That experience also allows him to speak to the commercial side of the trilobite trade, including insights into artful fakes from craftsmen in Morocco and Russia, and the exorbitant prices these fossils can demand at trade shows and online. However, his other bona fides include being field associate in paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and co-editor of the museum’s trilobite website. Those latter experiences have shown him that fascination with trilobites runs deep. 

The book contains introductory comments by Kirk Johnson, Director of the Smithsonian, and the well-known paleontologists, Niles Eldredge and Mark Norell. Secher provides the reader with a trilobite tour of each Paleozoic Period punctuated with a photographic gallery at the end of each section. He finishes with Thoughts & Observations where he outlines his experiences as a collector and connoisseur of these deep time arthropods. There were many places where he made me itch to check out some of the field locations he mentions—at least the ones that I can reach without mortgaging my worldly assets. 

The text is readable and entertaining, although Secher’s enthusiasm for his topic sometimes leads to hyperbolic prose. He takes pains to carefully identify the identities and provenance of all his specimens. Scientists will appreciate the accuracy. The eyes of those mostly interested in trilobite forms may glaze over eventually after enough encounters with nearly unpronounceable Latin nomenclature. I believe this book will be a valuable resource for both scientists and collectors, however. It deserves a spot right next to your copy of Riccardo Levi-Seti’s The Trilobite Book. Learn more at http://cup.columbia.edu/book/travels-with-trilobites/9780231553865.
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Easy to read, engaging, entertaining--Travels with Trilobites is a delight to read for both students of the species and interested laypersons. Secher blends beautiful visuals, a true love for trilobites, readable science and a grand voice for storytelling in this piece. 10/10.
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Travels with Trilobites by Andy Secher is as in-depth look at the ancient world's most well-known marine arthropod. Secher is a field associate in paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and coeditor of the museum’s trilobite website. His private collection comprises more than 4,000 trilobite fossils. He was for many years the editor of the rock-and-roll magazine Hit Parader, a magazine geared for the heavy metal rock and roll audience and earned the ire of Guns N Roses in their song "In the Ring."

I first met trilobites in college historical geology. They were interesting creatures that lived long ago and were represented very well in the fossil record. What I didn't know could fill a book, and that's exactly what Secher has done. Travels with Trilobites is a book that answers many questions as well as filled in many gaps in my knowledge of the species.... well not species but class of animals, trilobita. Ten orders of trilobites are recognized along with literally thousands of species. The trilobite is much more than one simple animal.


Trilobites survived and thrived for more than a half billion years and are extremely well represented in the fossil record because of their exoskeletons. Soft bodies animals are usually preserved as one-dimensional smudges rather than the three-dimensional forms as trilobite fossils. Secher takes the reader around the world to the best trilobite sites as trilobites spread across the world and the world's various land configurations. Trilobites also managed to occupy several layers of the food chain, from predators, to scavengers, to food for others. They came out of nowhere, expanded, adapted, evolved, and quickly vanished in the Permian extinction.

Secher takes the reader tour, not only of geography, but also the evolution of a marine arthropod which was one of the most successful animals of early earth life. This is a very well written, illistrated, and researched book. It is easy enough for all to understand but also detailed enough for those who already have an interest in trilobites.
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For some reason, all I keep thinking of is that one day, very, very long ago, there was a very last trilobite in the ocean. It didn't know anything about the history of its kind, or even of its species. It wasn't aware that it was the final one there would ever be, but once it died, no creature of its kind ever existed again.

You could say that about all extinct species, I guess; but trilobites weren't *one* species. They were over 25,000 species, according to what we know today. They started swimming in the oceans probably about 521 million years ago, and kept on swimming them for 270 million years. Which means the very last trilobite lived closer in time to us than to the very first trilobite - and they still all died out before the dinosaurs.

...I can't handle so much time. I can't compute it. I'm trying to put it in terms of distance: if every year is a millimeter, then the first trilobite is 521 kilometers away, and the very last one is 252 kilometers away. The first dinosaur is 240 kilometers away, and the last dinosaur is 66 kilometers away. None of them are within walking distance. And the first human is 300 meters away, which is a short stroll. And the Egyptian pyramids are built a room's length away.

I don't know how I feel about all this. 

Anyway. Trilobites. They were arthropods, which means they're distant cousins to both scorpions and butterflies, which really brings home how different they might have been from any of the creatures we have today. They swam the seas. They had exoskeletons, and they molted. Some were very spiny, while others seem to be smooth. Some had complex and interesting eyes. They were usually small - a few centimeters long - except for some giants which could be 20-30 centimeters long. Humans have come across their fossils time and again, and considered them "locusts" or other types of petrified bugs; and turned them into jewelry and amulets as far back as 15,000 years ago.

Trilobite fossils can be found all over Earth, in certain places where there are sediments from the right age - and then, you're likely to find *a lot* of them. Some are so well preserved that legs, eyes, gills, muscles, digestive tracks and eggs can be observed. 

"Travels with Trilobites" is a journey through both time and space: its chapters are chronological, but its smaller sections take us through various quarries all over Earth where trilobites of that age appeared. It reads very much like an enthusiastic trilobite collector sharing all the exciting details with a deep passion for the subject: descriptions of quarries, explanations of what trilobite life may have been like, speculation about why they disappeared (according to current scientific theories), a bit of sighing about digging for trilobites being more and more regulated these days, enthusiasm for new techniques of extracting trilobites from their stony tombs - and so many photos!

What I felt it lacks, just a bit, is a couple of diagrams to help us identify the main parts of a trilobite and the main differences between orders and species (aside from the really obvious things, like spikes). And maybe a reconstruction for people like me, who have a hard time imagining what these creatures must have looked like in life, antennae and all.

But all in all, "Travels with Trilobites" is a wonderful book even if, like me, you've never paid much attention to amazingly old fauna before. It's informative, interesting, exciting, and I breathed it in in a couple of days. I do recommend getting the physical book, though - like all books containing many photos, it's probably much nicer like that.
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