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Relics: Travels in Nature's Time Machine [Hardcover]

Piotr Naskrecki , Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: CDN$ 49.06 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

Oct. 31 2011

On any night in early June, if you stand on the right beaches of America’s East Coast, you can travel back in time all the way to the Jurassic. For as you watch, thousands of horseshoe crabs will emerge from the foam and scuttle up the beach to their spawning grounds, as they’ve done, nearly unchanged, for more than 440 million years.

Horseshoe crabs are far from the only contemporary manifestation of Earth’s distant past, and in Relics, world-renowned zoologist and photographer Piotr Naskrecki leads readers on an unbelievable journey through those lingering traces of a lost world. With camera in hand, he travels the globe to create a words-and-pictures portrait of our planet like no other, a time-lapse tour that renders Earth’s colossal age comprehensible, visible in creatures and habitats that have persisted, nearly untouched, for hundreds of millions of years.

Naskrecki begins by defining the concept of a relic—a creature or habitat that, while acted upon by evolution, remains remarkably similar to its earliest manifestations in the fossil record. Then he pulls back the Cambrian curtain to reveal relic after eye-popping relic: katydids, ancient reptiles, horsetail ferns, majestic magnolias, and more, all depicted through stunning photographs and first-person accounts of Naskrecki’s time studying them and watching their interactions in their natural habitats. Then he turns to the habitats themselves, traveling to such remote locations as the Atewa Plateau of Africa, the highlands of Papua New Guinea, and the lush forests of the Guyana Shield of South America—a group of relatively untrammeled ecosystems that are the current end point of staggeringly long, uninterrupted histories that have made them our best entryway to understanding what the prehuman world looked, felt, sounded, and even smelled like.

The stories and images of Earth’s past assembled in Relics are beautiful, breathtaking, and unmooring, plunging the reader into the hitherto incomprehensible reaches of deep time. We emerge changed, astonished by the unbroken skein of life on Earth and attentive to the hidden heritage of our planet’s past that surrounds us. 


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Review

"Relics is an exciting, adventure-filled, and scientifically important presentation by one of the world's best naturalists and photographers."
(E. O. Wilson)

"Piotr Naskrecki's new book is not easy to read. Physically, I mean. I have wanted to review this book for some time. After all, Piotr Naskrecki is a leading conservation photographer and katydid biologist, and I loved Naskrecki’s last book.



But I had to concentrate hard to stay focused on the text. The trouble is Relics comprises page after page of the most jaw-droppingly spectacular nature photography you’ve ever seen. No matter how compelling Naskrecki's prose, no matter how insightful his observations or unexpectedly charming his facts, his words reluctantly share pages with his starkly beautiful images of life with all its teeth and colors and scales and spiny legs. Spiders that look like floppy muppets. Crickets with edible wings. Expectant frog fathers. Killer katydids. Oh, and something called a 'Dinospider.' Yeah."--Alex Wild, Scientific American

(Alex Wild Scientific American)

"Relics is bursting with excitement. . . . Naskrecki is a solid scientists, a talented photographer, and a writer to emulate--this is the whole package in a book with a killer cover to boot."
(Bookslut)

"Embedded in this showcase book of exotic plants and animals is a plea to preserve what's left of the planet's evolutionary history."
(Seattle Times)

About the Author

Piotr Naskrecki is an entomologist and a research associate with the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. He is the author of The Smaller Majority.


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great photos, but not all about relics Dec 29 2011
By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'll start off with the reason this book lost a star. The author is, justifiably, cautious in labeling something an evolutionary relic when in reality is has likely evolved considerably compared to its "fossil state". What that really means is, for example, even though the basic crocodile body plan hasn't changed much in millions of years, lots of small tweaks have evolved. In some cases, it could simply be convergent evolution, where evolution leads to a similar end result through different pathways. But more fundamentally, Piotr suggests that the idea of a relic be extended to any rare or endangered animal as the last remaining relic of an evolutionary line. That means that relatively modern species can be considered relics. Which ultimately, in my opinion, diluted the focus of this book considerably. Just a little under half of the book seems to be dedicated to modern animals that are endangered rather than to modern animals that bear a striking resemblance to fossil species. There is also less explanation than I'd like on how and why relics have endured for so long. Don't get me wrong, the author does talk about it, but the main thrust of this book seems to be ecology and conservation.

So that's the negative. The positives are that the author is a field biologist who goes to lots of interesting places, sees lots of different plants and animals, takes really great pictures of them, and experiences some interesting stories along the way. Of all the above, the photographs are the most impressive part of this book. The author is clearly not just a biologist, but also a very gifted photographer. Many of his subjects are smaller invertebrates that are captured in fascinating close-up shots.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond the normal sight Nov. 9 2011
By wogan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
`Relics' can be an absolute education and for just the photographs alone can create an interest in the very young who enjoy the "creepy" realism. Those captivated by biology and in nature would appreciate the concentrated information given in the text.
The photos are done in splendid colour with exquisite close-ups. In a sense they are not what one could call beautiful, but they are superb in their intensity and realism that pops off of the page. The photographs are more daunting in some instances than any Hollywood special effects or make-up person could dream of creating.
Among the subjects covered are; the unexpected in New Guinea, travels in New Zealand, a mother's care, South Africa, the rain queen's garden, Atewa, Guiana shield, Notoptera, the ocean, in the sagebrush and the Estabrook Woods.
Most amazing is the section on the Atlantic horseshoe crab on the New Jersey shore. These pictures of the horseshoe crabs emerging from and in the surf are some of the most astonishing naturalist photos I have seen in my life.

The information in the text covers the natural world in these remarkable spots...the arachnids that can be traced back 300 million years and not to be forgotten amongst all of the living creatures is the ginkgo.
There are interesting notes at the end of the book to give more information and a detailed index. This is both a coffee table book and a text on the living fossils and natural surroundings of the wilds of this earth.

This is a book for even the young - potential biologists and naturalists and of course anyone else interested in that world or the realms of naturalist photography.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant close-up photography Oct. 26 2011
By Rob Sheppard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am a great fan of Piotr's work. He is one of the finest photographers of insects working today. His small critter photography (more than just insects) goes way beyond simply recording interesting critters. He makes them come alive and part of a larger environment. His photos often show the ecology of a situation beyond simply a portrait of the animal. The text is very interesting, though a bit academic (which is somewhat surprising because Piotr is a very funny guy when you hear him speak -- he seems to be trying hard to be the scientist rather than letting that part of his personality into the book).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blasts from the Past Aug. 12 2013
By Taylor McNeil - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Want to know what creatures looked like millions of years ago? No, you don't have to examine fossils: you can see their living descendants, often in exotic locales, but some really close by. Piotr Nastrecki shows us in his book "Relics: Travels in Nature's Time Machine," with its astounding photos of ancient animals and plants. Relatives of these creatures and plants are found in the fossil record dating back more than 500 million years ago. They discovered their niche and were adaptable enough to survive all that nature could throw at them: ice ages, drought, cataclysms of earth-shattering proportions (think meteors slamming into earth and wiping out 95 percent of all living matter)--you name it. Take the lowly horseshoe crab. They have been coming out of the ocean to lay eggs on the beach for 100 million years, give or take a few; Naskrecki photographs them in the Delaware Bay with the eye of an artist, and tells their story, like all the others here, in deft prose.

He travels the globe to document these critters and plants, from the deserts of Namibia and jungles of Guyana to the lush lands of New Zealand, and even to suburban Boston. That latter is the subject of his chapter "A Walk in the Estabrook Woods," in which he documents a wide diversity of life in this nature preserve in Concord. What really stood out for me here were his amazing photos of tiny fairy shrimp cavorting in a shallow vernal pool, whose ancestors sprang up in the Cambrian Period more than 500 million years ago. They emerge from dormant eggs in spring, and quietly reproduce and lay eggs before the vernal pools dry up as summer approaches. Some eggs lay dormant for multiple seasons, meaning extended drought can't cut their genetic line off. How do those eggs know to remain dormant while their twins start their watery lives? No one knows.

For all the creatures and plants that Naskrecki documents, millions of years have gone by, and yes, evolution has changed them in subtle ways from their ancestors. But they are similar enough--relics of a long-gone era. It probably goes without saying that these plants and animals that have withstood all the challenges that nature offered for millennia upon millennia are finding it tough going now that they are up against nature's premier destructive mechanism: mankind. Through habitat loss and outright killing, we're decimating these last remnants of an earlier age, species by species. Naskrecki documents tentative efforts to save them, but it's hard not to be pessimistic. Still, one knows that even long after we're merely part of the fossil record, some of this diversity will survive, and go on to thrive, as it has for hundreds of millions of years.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and beautifully written book. June 30 2012
By Jack Olver - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The photographs are brilliant and the writing takes you into the author's world. Many of the creatures and locales examined in this book will soon be gone from the Earth. In some cases Mr. Naskrecki's work may be the only popularly accessible record of them. If you love the Earth and the magnificent diversity of life that has sprung from it you will return to this book many times through the years.
5.0 out of 5 stars If you enjoy nature photography-- April 18 2014
By Robert Perkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
You'll love the book. The text is interesting and the images are gorgeous. I keep my copy on a shelf, but I'll put it on the coffee table when a group of outdoorsmen and women visit. It's a winner.
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