An Inspiration

by An Ordinary Man (the novel)

    “What did I do?”

    “You brought in a child’s sand pail – yellow, if I remember right – full of sea shells, poured them out across your desk in the lecture hall, and started to talk about how different mollusks met the cost of building a shell. I had never thought of it that way; that any organism has to make a living just like a person; that they had spending constraints just like so many of us do, that if they do not earn a living, they die. It was the single most fascinating lecture I ever heard and it inspired me to seek a Ph.D. in ecological biology.”

Geerat J. Vermeij

Geerat J. Vermeij

Geerat Vermeij is a Dutch malacologist (shell biologist) who wrote A Natural History of Shells, a beautifully made and illustrated book that talks about the cost to the critter of building a structure to protect him, her, it.  He has collected and studied shells from all over the world and has learned to decipher clues as to its owner’s life history – when it was attacked by a crab, for example, and if it survived.  He is a MacArthur Foundation Fellow (“genius”) and writes in a very accessible manner.  This is one of my most treasured books.  And, although it doesn’t seem to have made a bit of difference, it should be mentioned that he’s been blind since a young age.

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