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Rocks and Minerals, Jul/Aug 2004

The first impression one has of L'Ambre is that it is copiously illustrated with striking color photographs of insects and other inclusions in amber. Then comes the realization that all the text is in French. But even a non French-reading person such as myself can glean much of the meaning, since many of the nouns are recognizable and the photographs and illustrations are of considerable aid.

The book begins by defining amber and differentiating it from copal or more recent and, as yet, undistilled resin. One section discusses human interest in amber and shows ancient artifacts that our early European relatives carved from it. Photographing amber and its inclusions is demonstrated nicely, and spotting amber fakes, especially those with insect or other inclusions, is discussed.

Author Eric Geirnaert follows the history of amber collecting from nineteen countries or famous localities, including the Baltic area, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. (Did you know that twelve states have yielded amber?) Another section on the classification of insects is probably too short. Anyone who has attempted this laborious task can appreciate the pitfalls of fossil insect identifications, even those preserved in three dimensions. Still, a table showing the relative percentages of insect orders and other inclusions from nine major localities is informative.

One of the most remarkable and visually striking sections deals with a limited number of insects that have retained not only the pigmented patterns on their wings and elytra, but also their (presumably) original colors. Featured here are several varieties of Coleoptera (beetles) and Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, and so on), one spider, and a few other showy critters. One of the colorful beetles adorns the cover. Another fascinating section features some apparently rare and probably much-sought-after specimens that contain insects and one set of spiders caught in their final, and thus perpetual, act of procreation.

L'Ambre is a most entertaining volume, especially for those who can read French. A number of the photographs (of insects or other types of trapped passersby caught in sticky sap) are of subject matter new to me and not shown in the two most popular amber books published in the States. This alone should make the book desirable for those interested in amber or aficionados of fossil insects and spiders.

-Richard Dayvault

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