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New Book on Amber

Here is a review of mine of a new book on amber which just coming onto the

"Amber: The Natural Time Capsule" by Andrew Ross

The publication of a book on amber is rare, the publication of a good book
on amber even rarer, this is one of those events. Andrew Ross of the Natural
History Museum in London has recently completed a work entitled 'Amber'. Due
for publication on the 8th September, I am fortunate to have been given an
advance copy for review within these pages.

The book is some 73 pages in length so it is relatively short compared with
many contemporary publications on fossil resin. However, there is a fine
concentration of exemplary photographs and data within its covers.

The work is divided into a series of sections which deal briefly with a
number of classic questions the enquiring reader would typically ask
concerning amber, amongst them being;

* What is Amber?
* The Properties of Amber
* Fake Amber
* The Uses of Amber
* Where Is Amber Found?
* Baltic Amber
* Dominican Amber
* What Is a Species?
* Amber Inclusions
* Animal Interactions
* Plant Inclusions
* The Search for DNA
* Biography
* Key to Identifying Arthropods

The book contains hundreds of colour photographs that sumptuously illustrate
the authors notes and writing. Nearly all of the photographs are new and
original, with less than 10 occurring elsewhere. This is not always the case
with some books showing dozens of stock photographs which have been
reproduced on numerous occasions in other volumes. I know of one insect
inclusion photograph, which has appeared in 3 books to date.

The content of the chapters and explanations are simple and easy to
understand. Complicated topics are reduced to simple descriptions that the
casual reader can quickly assimilate and understand. A nice balance has been
struck in terms of the details included and the information provided. I
rashly count myself amongst a group of people who might be termed
'knowledgeable about amber' but I found the content sufficiently interesting
to hold my attention. New and fresh snippets of information I had not come
across before kept me reading.

The section on fake amber contains some useful comparative photographs of
various resins that have in the past been sold as true amber. It also
contains examples of faked insects and details of tests that will help
identify amber from all substitutes.

Different varieties of amber are explored in detail, with some beautiful
representative examples of fossil resin from different localities being
superbly photographed, a useful resource for anyone making visual

There is some detail on the two major sources of amber in the world, namely
the Baltic and the Dominican Republic. I would have liked to see more
information here, supported perhaps with some maps and further data. The
only poor photograph in the entire book resides in the Dominican Republic
section with a photograph of apparently blue amber. The piece actually looks
black and does not show the fluorescent qualities of this particular type of
amber at all.

A separate section introduces the world of inclusions in amber. This is the
area most people are fascinated by. This section expands on the concept of
insects trapped in resin and leads the reader into a basic understanding of
what inclusions can tell us about the ancient world and its ecological
checks and balances. As an introduction into what the study of amber is
really all about it could not be better.

A section on the current state of play concerning DNA in amber fairly states
the case I believe. It would seem that a question mark begins to grow over
this entire field of research.

For the collector of amber with inclusions the latter half of this book is
an absolute God send. Being able to identify insects trapped in amber is
difficult and current reference books often hard to follow. They are
frequently aimed at the academic or professional. This book contains the
easiest key to identifying insects I have yet come across, rather like a
flow chart through which the reader moves. The process of naming an insect
could not get any easier. It will be invaluable to both researchers and
amateurs alike when it comes to naming insect inclusions in amber. I could
easily see these sections being reproduced on a single A1 wall chart for
ease of reference and I am certain that in this format it would grace the
walls of most schools, insect fossil research units and entomological places
of study. Come on NHM, think about it.

Each of the arthropod sections has clear diagrams for identification
purposes and a good, succinct description of the insect. This is
complimented with photographs of typical insects that have been trapped in
amber. In some cases the insect's frequency of occurrence and geographic
location in fossil resin are also referenced.

The only major criticism of this book I have is that it's too short. I would
like to read a lot more of what Mr Ross has to say on the subject of amber.
He is gifted with the ability to simplify complex ideas without becoming
patronising or misleading. The simple descriptive text, the logical layout
and fantastic photographs make this an essential buy for the amber collector
or general reader with an interest in amber.

The retail price is GBP 7.95 (plus GBP 1.50 p+p for UK orders, plus GBP 2.50
for mainland Europe and USA orders)
The publication date is 8th September.

Orders can be sent to
Plymbridge Distributors Limited
Estover House
Estover Road                                   Tel: 01752 202 300
Plymouth                                         Fax: 01752 202 333
Devon                                             orders@plymbridge.com

Please mention the Amber Home web site in your order.

Garry Platt M.Ed. MIPD. FISM.
Senior Consultant
CMTC Management Centre  E Mail: garry@gplatt.demon.co.uk
Woodland Grange
Old Milverton Lane              Telephone No: IN THE UK - 01926 336621 OUTSIDE 
+44 1926 336621
Royal Leamington Spa
Warwickshire                    Fax No: IN THE UK - 01926 450648 OUTSIDE THE UK 
- +44 1926
CV32 6RN
United Kingdom                  Personal Web Site: