“The appearance of the Coelacanth was like a gigantic tidal wave which washed me violently from my path, held me in its grip, carried me along, and set my feet on a quest that dominated some of the best years of my life.”—JLB Smith, Old Fourlegs: The Story of the Coelacanth
When scientist JLB Smith published Old Fourlegs: The Story of the Coelacanth in 1956, he created an international sensation. A dramatic account of the discovery of a creature thought to have been extinct for 65 million years, the book brought science into the living rooms of thousands. It was published in six English editions and translated into ten foreign languages. The Annotated Old Fourlegs brings this incredible story back to life for today’s readers.
Smith’s famous account begins with the finding of a strange fish off the coast of South Africa by a local fisherman. As large as a person, the fish had fins like arms and vicious snapping jaws. Smith became certain that what had been caught was the legendary coelacanth, previously known only through fossils. The book follows Smith’s obsessive drive to track down other specimens and to learn more about this extraordinary fish that has lived on Earth from the era of the dinosaurs to modern times.
The Annotated Old Fourlegs features a facsimile reprint of the original book with extensive margin notes, providing insights on JLB Smith, updates on coelacanth research, and comments on the coelacanth’s influence on contemporary culture. Mike Bruton, an ichthyologist who has dedicated his life to continuing the pioneering studies begun by Smith, provides a new introduction and concluding chapters that bring the coelacanth story up to date.
Mike Bruton is the former director of the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology, now the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity. Bruton was born and educated in East London, South Africa, where the first living coelacanth was discovered, and studied under JLB and Margaret Smith at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. He has led a series of searches for the coelacanth and has been closely involved in efforts for its conservation. He is the author of many books, including When I Was a Fish: Tales of an Ichthyologist.