Spirals in Time by Helen Scales: Book Review

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Spirals in Time by Helen Scales Book Cover
Title: Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells

My Synopsis:

In a book covering an unimaginable array of topics, marine biologist Helen Scales introduces readers to the world of mollusks.

My Review:

I downloaded this book on a whim from the library, thinking that it would work for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge “hobby” category since I can’t resist picking up seashells when I’m at the beach. As I read, I decided it would work better for the “oceanography” category but either way, I found the book captivating. Let me be clear. I have a dusty biology degree but I’ve always been much more interested in mammals than anything else. Birds do have a certain appeal. But mollusks as anything other than beautiful shells that catch my eye? Bo-ring!

Oh, how wrong I was. Mollusks are fascinating!

There were so many interesting topics that I don’t even know where to begin.

I had to read a few chapters before the book really hooked me. Mollusk evolution doesn’t interest me that much. The intricacies of shell building caught my attention a bit more but still aren’t really my thing. The next chapter, about shells as money and jewelry in ancient times finally started to intrigue me. This is the point where I started to regularly share my newly-learned facts with my husband and my sister. That’s a sure sign that I’m enjoying a book. It only got more engrossing from there. I was soon Googling snail species I’ve never heard of and watching them hunt fish (Yes! Slowpoke snails hunt and eat fish. And can kill a human within heartbeats. Who knew?) I looked up Noble Pen Shells and the “seasilk” that artisans historically wove from their byssal fibers. Jeanne Power, a female scientist who’s largely been forgotten but who finally settled the question of whether or not argonauts make their own shells, went on the list of people I’d like to read more about. I looked up snails that literally encase themselves in iron chain mail of their own making. And I watched videos of sea butterflies swimming through warming oceans and indicating, like canaries in coal mines, that all is not well.

I downloaded this book from my digital library and read it on my Kindle Paperwhite. It wasn’t until the very end that I realized that it includes color plates with pictures of all these species. I did look at the pictures on my phone’s Kindle app (Paperwhites do not render pictures well), but I spent so much time looking things up on my own that I don’t feel like I missed much. Still, I do recommend a physical copy if you can get your hands on one.

This book obviously isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re curious about nature and science, I highly recommend that you give it a try.

Similar Books:

If you liked Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells, you might also like my reviews of

Reading Challenge:

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge


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  1. Oh wow! This sounds right up my street! I used to collect sea shells as a little girl and we love close to the beach, so it is an ongoing interest. I think I’ll try to get hold of the book from my library… Thank you for a lovely review:)).

  2. I was really looking forward to your review- clearly this book was awesome 👏! What are sea butterflies?? I am going to Google all of this. The other day somebody shared a meme that words ending with fish didn’t really mean fish (like silverfish) whereas some other creatures definitely were (like seahorse)… I am all kinds of fascinated!

  3. Such a lovely enthusiastic review. I would also have thought that mollusk would be as boring as hell. And I also pick up shells whenever I go to the beach. Sea shells everywhere!

    Glad you enjoyed this one. I have a book on shells in the library, maybe I should take it out sometime.

    Elza Reads

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