Books : reviews

Richard Fortey.
Fossils: the key to the past: 2nd edn.
Natural History Museum. 1991

Richard Fortey.
The Hidden Landscape: a journey into the geological past.
Jonathan Cape. 1993

Richard Fortey.
Life: An Unauthorised Biography.
HarperCollins. 1997

Richard Fortey.
Trilobite!: eyewitness to evolution.
HarperCollins. 2000

Richard Fortey.
The Earth: an intimate history.
Harper Perennial. 2004

Richard Fortey.
Dry Store Room No.1: the secret life of the Natural History Museum.
Harper Perennial. 2008

Richard Fortey.
Survivors: the animals and plants that time has left behind.
Harper. 2011

The history of life on Earth is far older – and odder – than many of us realise. Evolution has not completely obliterated its tracks as more advanced organisms have evolved. In this groundbreaking book, prize-winning science writer Richard Fortey chronicles life’s history not through the fossil record, but through the stories of organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, through geological time.

Scattered across the globe, these remarkable plants and animals speak to us of seminal events in the history of life. They range from humble algal mats dating back more than two billion years, to hardy musk oxen, which linger as the last vestiges of Ice Age megafauna. Their existence today offers us a tantalising glimpse of pivotal points in evolutionary history; of landscapes long vanished; of mass extinctions that changed the face of nature.

Fortey takes us on an incredible journey to these ancient worlds; on a moonlit beach in Delaware where the horseshoe crab shuffles its way through a violent romance, we catch a glimpse of life 450 million years ago. Along a stretch of Australian coastline, we bear witness to the sights that would have greeted a Precambrian dawn. And, in the dense rainforests of New Zealand where the secretive velvet worm creeps through rotting timber, we marvel at a living fossil which has survived almost unchanged since before the break-up of Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent, over 150 million years ago.

Written with Fortey’s customary sparkle and gusto, this wonderfully engrossing exploration of the world’s survivors combines the very best science writing about the origins of life with an explorer’s sense of adventure and a poet’s wonder at the natural world.

Richard Fortey.
The Wood for the Trees: the long view of nature from a small wood.
William Collins. 2016

Guided by his abiding love of nature and a lifetime of scientific expertise, Richard Fortey takes us on a journey through ecosystems and time. The Wood for the Trees is the story of humankind meeting nature, an homage to the mesmerising interactions between flora, fauna and fungi.

Discover the lives of animals and plants; the passage of the seasons; visits by fellow enthusiasts; the play of light between branches; the influence of geology; and how woodland has shaped history, architecture and industry. On every page Fortey shows how an intimate study of one small wood can reveal so much about the natural world, and demonstrates his relish for the incomparable pleasures of discovery.

Richard Fortey.
A Curious Boy: the making of a scientist.
HarperCollins. 2021

What makes a scientist?

In this memoir Richard Fortey offers an unforgettable portrait of how restless curiosity about the natural world led him to become a leading scientist and writer. From childhood experiments in a garden shed laboratory to a tent high in the Arctic in pursuit of fossils, this is a personal story of obsession, and a moving celebration of the natural world as a playground, a refuge and a muse for a life’s work filled with wonder.