Book Review: Relics: Travels in Nature’s Time Machine by Piotr Naskrecki

Review by Allison Bohac

Some species are survival champs, able to persist for millions of years virtually unchanged. Known as “relicts,” their long lineages give biologists a glimpse of what life was like before humans could observe it.

Naskrecki, an entomologist and photographer, titled the book Relics rather than Relicts as a respectful nod to his subjects’ status as objects of antiquity. Part travelog, part natural history, the book chronicles his journeys from rain forest to Wyoming sagebrush plain in search of these relics. Naskrecki’s writing is sincere, enlightening and sometimes genuinely funny, as when he describes his harrowing adventure with bungee jumping in New Zealand or how he received a nasty chomp from a New Guinean possum while a biologist friend stood by and assured him, “these possums never bite!”

But the photographs are the real draw here. Naskrecki gets up close to plants and animals to capture them in vivid, colorful detail. Turning the pages is like turning over rocks in the garden — what crawls out can be startling, or bizarre, but always fascinating. Allison Bohac

Univ. of Chicago, 2011, 342 p., $45