Spirals in Time

Mea Culpa:

I don't have an electronic version to share and confirm that I read it.  You'll just have to find this book on your own and confirm we read the same thing yourself.

"Spirals in Time: The secret life and curious life of seashells"
By Helen Scales

What a great book!  Helen Scales has put a lifetime of study into this and it shows, though she doesn't bother with the usual academic obfuscation.  On the surface this is a great introductory survey to the second most successful class of animals on the planet: the mollusks (losing out only to the insects in complexity, biomass, and diversity).  Learning how these creatures do what they do, and what that is, is fascinating and she helps the reader to experience the thrill of discovery.

However, the context makes a lot more out of this book.  The context is anthropological, as a study of what people know about seashells must focus a little bit on the people.  It turns out that shells have played a hugely important role in human history, and not just by creating the limestone we use to build houses and contributing to a healthy Gaia by regulating carbon exchange.  The student of exchange commodities and bitcoin will be interested to find out here the origin of the word "Spondoolies" as well as the history of how Cowrie shells were traded for slaves for a long long time.  Eventually different Cowrie shells (from another archipelago) were accepted by the marketplace and that was the beginning of the hyperinflation which ended the Cowrie standard era.

This monetary interest might seem boring to you as you read, in comparison to the life and evolution of the chambered nautilus or the argonaut, or the stories of the world's great mathematicians struggling to model the creation of shell shapes and markings.  However if anthropology is your thing you will also enjoy the remarkable stories of the collectors and their voyages and temperaments, as well as stories of shells used around the world ceremonially, musically, and otherwise.

In the end the reader is left with little doubt as to who the best builders are, and it becomes more clear how we could build spaceships and other structures in the future.

Of course being capable of thought, you are already concerned with our health here - as Gaia has shown in geologic history no illness as acute as the one we now face.  It was the coral which told me to read the thing in the first place.  There is some insight into the matter of coral blight to be had from this book, but it isn't a James Lovelock style diagnosis.  The tone is much more upbeat and acknowledging of the mystery and grandeur of life, the twists and turns inside the shell and out.






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