Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: Spirals in Time

It has been some time since I last wrote a book review for #StevesLibrary, and I’m still catching up on other posts too (watch this space). I recently finished Spirals in Time by Helen Scales, a book that I’ve been meaning to finish since mid-2017, when I purchased my copy from the Cambridge branch of Waterstones. Tom, if you’re reading this, I hope you managed to finish your copy well ahead of me! Scales’ name may be familiar to you from my previous review of A Brilliant Abyss, which was one of the motivators for me to get around to reading Spirals in Time. As a quick overview, it is just as engaging and enlightening as A Brilliant Abyss, except this time we’re exploring the hidden world of seashells. I’ve always been fascinated by shells, having grown up along the Thames Estuary, and seeing how the local economy was driven by the collection of cockles and mussels, from nearby. This interest was further cemented during my A-level in Geology, where bivalve anatomy was a big component of the palaeontology module. I may have dedicated my academic life to amphibians and reptiles, but other forms of life interest me just as much. It is clear that Scales has an even deeper fascination and passion for these marvellous creatures, with Spirals in Time taking readers on a captivating journey through the origins, science, and cultural significance of seashells.

Scales masterfully combines scientific knowledge with storytelling, creating a narrative that is both informative and captivating. Her writing style is accessible, making complex scientific concepts understandable to readers of all backgrounds (something I hope I’m also able to do). She effortlessly weaves together anecdotes, historical accounts, and personal experiences, which adds a personal touch to the book and enhances the reader’s connection to the subject matter. One of the book’s strengths lies in its ability to evoke a sense of wonder and curiosity about seashells, given how most people never stop to think about the animals that once lived inside the shells they find washed up on the beach. Scales also delves into the evolutionary history of molluscs, which given the title of the book was to be expected. However, she also covers a vast array of cultural impacts that these creatures have had such their links to the slave trade, and oysters beds here around the North Sea.

Scales also addresses the ecological implications surrounding seashells. She discusses the environmental threats that impact molluscs and their habitats, such as pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change. Through her words, readers gain an understanding of the delicate balance within marine ecosystems and the importance of preserving these natural wonders for future generations. It wouldn’t be a books on shells if it didn’t feature our venomous friends Conus, or the cone snails. Scales describes in detail how their venom works, and what research is being conducted to help turn these deadly animals, into lifesavers. That is one of the things in science that blows my mind the most, taking a venom from one animal, and using it to create a drug to cure a disease in another (us). In addition to the informative content, the book is organised in a thoughtful and logical manner. While Spirals in Time is a comprehensive exploration of seashells, some readers might find the scientific explanations a bit overwhelming at times. However, Scales’ enthusiasm and storytelling skills keep the narrative engaging, ensuring that even those less familiar with the subject will find it enjoyable.

In conclusion, Spirals in Time is a remarkable book that combines scientific knowledge, cultural exploration, and a sense of wonder to create an immersive journey into the world of seashells. Helen Scales’ passion for the subject shines through every page, making it an essential read for anyone interested in the natural world, marine biology, or simply the beauty of these remarkable creatures. This book will undoubtedly deepen your appreciation for the wonders that lie within seashells, and inspire you to explore the hidden treasures of our oceans.

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