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Poseidon's Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality

Popular Science

By: Helen Scales (Author)

261 pages, 16 plates with b/w photos and b/w illustrations; 1 b/w map

Gotham Books

Paperback | Nov 2010 | #234684 | ISBN-13: 9781592405817
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1-2 weeks Details
NHBS Price: £12.99 $17/€15 approx
Hardback | deckle edge | Nov 2009 | #183036 | ISBN-13: 9781592404742
Out of Print Details

About this book

A fascinating journey with the sea creature that has captured human imagination for thousands of years. Poseidon's Steed trails the seahorse through secluded waters across the globe in a kaleidoscopic history that mirrors manas centuries-old fascination with the animal, sweeping from the reefs of Indonesia, through the back streets of Hong Kong, and back in time to ancient Greece and Rome.

Over time, seahorses have surfaced in some unlikely places. We see them immortalized in the decorative arts; in tribal folklore, literature, and ancient myth; and even on the pages of the earliest medical texts, prescribed to treat everything from skin complaints to baldness to flagging libido. Marine biologist Helen Scales eloquently shows that seahorses are indeed fish, though scientists have long puzzled over their exotic anatomy, and their very strange sex lives – male seahorses are the only males in the animal world that experience childbirth.

Our first seahorse imaginings appeared six thousand years ago on cave walls in Australia. The ancient Greeks called the seahorse "hippocampus" (half-horse, half-fish) and sent it galloping through the oceans of mythology, pulling the sea god Poseidonas golden chariot. The seahorse has even been the center of a modern-day international art scandal: A two-thousand-year-old winged seahorse brooch was plundered by Turkish tomb raiders and sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

"Effectively examines the seahorse's chameleon qualities, as well as the phenomenon of males giving birth-the only such instance in the animal kingdom. The author is also adept at delineating the seahorse's alleged healing powers, and she offers a fascinating study in the history of aquariums and the pursuit of 'queer fish' [...] the author makes a solid case for a rare and wondrous creature."
Kirkus

"A true natural history book, covering all aspects of the seahorse's involvement in the world [...] Scales is a marine biologist, and her fascination with the subject (she learned to scuba dive in order to observe this remarkable creature) shines through in her easy-to-read style and the way she uses the seahorse as a hook to discuss broader subjects [...] This is sure to appeal to both teens and readers interested in the natural world."
Library Journal

"This seems to be just about the perfect book: small, delicate, elegant, charming, unusual, fascinating and uniquely memorable, a classic of its kind. In fact, now I come to think of it, Poseidon's Steed is itself a sort of seahorse of the book world."
– Simon Winchester

"This gem of a book has all the charm, passion, and compassion that one could look for in a great, relaxing read. Helen Scales is such a delightful writer and traveling guide that you won t even realize how much you re learning. Open the cover, go for a ride, have fun with this book. It s perfect for the beach."
– Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean, Eye of the Albatross, and Voyage of the Turtle

"In this eye-opening book, Helen Scales reveals the heretofore well-kept secrets of what is probably the most fascinating and enigmatic of all the fish in the sea, the tiny, horse-headed, vertical swimming, tube-mouthed, prehensile-tailed, male brood-pouched Hippocampus; evolutionary mystery (how could such a creature evolve?), star of mythology, and now, poster-child for marine conservation."
– Richard Ellis, author of Tuna: A Love Story


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Biography

Helen Scales is a marine biologist based in Cambridge. Her doctorate involved exploring the reproductive biology of the humphead wrasse, and since then she has tagged sharks in California, catalogued marine life surrounding a hundred islands in the Andaman Sea, and most recently studied the diverse fish that live on coral reefs in the South Pacific. Helen is now a freelance researcher and broadcaster. A major outlet for Helen's explorations is BBC Radio where she is a reporter and presenter on science and natural history programmes, especially on Radio 4 and the World Service. Her credits include regular appearances on Inside Science and Home Planet, numerous one-off documentaries, and a coveted spot on The Museum of Curiosity. Helen is also a long-standing member of the award-winning science communication collective, The Naked Scientists, based at the University of Cambridge. She has also written Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells (2014).

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