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Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads: A Fish Caught in Time

Mon, 09/19/2005 - 1:33pm by TimG

This is one of three titles under consideration for this year's Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads, which will focus on Revolutions In Science: the people, theories, explanations and discoveries that challenged our thinking and changed the world.

The coelacanth (see-lo-canth) is no ordinary fish. Five feet long, with luminescent eyes and limb like fins, this bizarre creature, presumed to be extinct, was discovered in 1938 by an amateur icthyologist who recognized it from fossils dating back 400 million years. The discovery was immediately dubbed the "greatest scientific find of the century," but the excitement that ensued was even more incredible. This is the entrancing story of that most rare and precious fish — our own great-uncle forty million times removed.

Let us know what you think of this book!


Quite a well-written fast-paced book. The extraordinary political drama surrounding its search and obsession is perhaps equivalent to this extraordinary find of the first fossilized fish.
In addition to Prof. Smith's search the book touches on an important aspect - the environmental damage that overfishing of a rare species can cause.
Ms. Weinberg does well to keep the scientific details of the fish at the end of the book.

Why should we care about the finding of a fish that was thought to be extinct for 70 million years? How many of us could identify more than two or three fish anyway, mostly poached fillets?
The author makes us care, by making us know the people who cared, and what knowledgeable caring amounts to. This book should go a long way toward creating thousands of new scientists, many of them marine biologists.

After reviewing the three selections, I recommend "A Fish Caught in Time" for the AA Reads 2006. The discovery of the Coelacanth captured the imagination of not only scientists, but also politicians and the general populace. It was arguably the major biological discovery of the twenthieth century. This selection has the most riveting, warm writing style and holds the reader's interest to the end. My question is why did some members of this species evolve to form land animals and other members remain static for 400 million years.

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