565: Trilobite by Richard Fortey

by Gerard


565.39: Fortey, Richard. Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution. New York: Knopf, 2000. 265 pp. ISBN 0-375-40625-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 560: Paleontology and paleozoology
  • 565: Fossil Arthropoda
  • 565.3: Crustaceans and Trilobita
  • 565.39: Trilobita


Hundreds of millions of years ago, a special creature traveled through the world’s oceans. Covered in an calcite chitin exoskeleton, they were first discovered by Reverend Edward Lhwyd in 1698, and from there the fascination grew. To date, some 17,000 species have been described. Sadly, though, there are no extant species of trilobite and we only have the fossil record to go by. The closest we have is the horseshoe crab. Richard Fortey’s Trilobite takes us through the history, taxonomy, and science of the wondrous trilobite.

The art of finding of trilobites in the wild is equal parts geological prowess, immeasurable patience, and scientific fortitude. Fortey’s early experiences with trilobite investigation left him at the mercy of a microscope and thousands of tiny rock-drilling needles. Fortey’s writing is both scholarly and jovial, and he includes a fair number of pictures to show off the anatomy and diversity of trilobite species. Luckily, so many trilobite specimens have been found around the world, there is a great deal of information to be gleaned on how they lived.

Fortey makes you feel like you should rush out to the nearest mountain and starting hammering away (gingerly, though, you don’t want to break them) to find an ancient creature locked in the rocks. He is genuinely excited to share his collected experiences with the reader, and he wisely keeps his erudition at a decent level. If you’re an amateur scientist or simply a natural history nut (like me), then this one from the London Natural History Museum’s foremost paleontologist is well worth it.