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

Helen Scales. Bloomsbury/Sigma, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4729-1136-0
Scales (Poseidon’s Steed), a freelance researcher and science reporter, brings a marine biologist’s eye and aficionado’s heart to these musings on seashells, the diversity of mollusks that inhabit them, and the human fascination with them, dancing across a variety of fields of study in her zeal. Scales addresses the mathematics of chambered shell construction, which is theoretically controllable with a small number of rules, and explores sociology through the history of shells as pure ornamentation, markers of social class, and fodder for museums and collectors. She also highlights the social complexities within shellfish-collecting communities such as Gambia’s Try Oyster Women’s Association. Scales covers biology from several angles, investigating the poorly understood history of mollusk evolution as well as oddities such as the strange Pinna nobilis, which produces sea silk; the recent rediscovery of argonauts, the only shell-dwelling cephalopods; and the deadly venom produced by cone snails. Even materials science gets its due as Scales shares research on the composition of mussel glue and the surprising strength of nacre. Conservationism is not a major theme, but she does raise concerns about marine pollution and the impact of pH shifts on mollusk populations. Scales’s eclectic approach to this ancient bridge between the human and natural worlds conveys her curiosity and appreciation, which readers will share. Color insert. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/25/2015
Release date: 07/21/2015
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4729-1137-7
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-4729-1138-4
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