PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am


by Richard Fortey
Harper Press (e-book)

For this book paleontologist Richard Fortey went in search of the past by examining ancient animals and plants that have survived to the present. How wonderful then that his travels should include Hong Kong in addition to, among other places, the US, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Wales and Germany. Here, with the help of Dr Paul Shin from City University, he visits Sai Kung East Country Park to find in its mud flats the brachiopod Lingula, which has been around for almost 500 million years, looking pretty much as it does today: it 'possesses two tongue-shaped shells ... pressed together like hands in prayer'. While digging around in these parts, Fortey finds a survivor with an equally impressive Cambrian lineage: the peanut worm, which Shin tells him the Chinese mix with gelatine and eat. In describing these creatures, Fortey concludes that in adaptive terms there is nothing inferior about organisms with older origins. Such creatures reveal much about the course of evolution. Fortey injects life into natural history with this wonderful book.