Calcite, with its subtitle “The mineral with the most forms” is an exemplary initiative by Lapis International to present the wonders of natural history to the population at large and to popularize the science of mineralogy in general. It presents a splendid succession of insights into the nature and occurrence of calcite that is bound to surprise and delight all mineral lovers.

The section on photogallery features several magnificent photographs of calcite specimens from Tsumeb and Mexico, and a smattering of photographs of calcite from other localities around the world. Then comes a beautiful photo essay on the truly bizarre world of limestone cave formations by Sara Bronko, a student of Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut. Ms. Bronko introduces such exotic features as helictites, cave pearls, soda straw forests, and calcite cups. Following this extravaganza, the technical note by R. Duthaler on cleaning calcite and aragonite comes as a distinct anticlimax, but this is succeeded by the intriguing insights on biomineralization by R. Hochleitner and R.P. Richards, specifically, the crystalline framework of echinoderms.

The twenty-three chapters of this tidy 114-page volume are here grouped for convenience by this reviewer into three main topics and sections: 1) mineralogy- crystallography (p.1-47); 2) important localities (p. 48-90), and 3) photogallery (p. 91-103). Included is a short note on cleaning calcite and aragonite, and one on biomineralization in echinoderms (p.104-108).

The section on mineralogy-crystallography comprises essential notes on: polymorphs of CaCO3, and calcite and its relations, summarized by R. Hochleitner and T. Huizing; crystal shapes, in which R.P. Richards, developer of the Mac version of SHAPE, presents an elegant primer; calcite pseudomorphs, unmasked by R. Hochleitner; cleavage and the birth of modern mineralogy, a fascinating account in which L. Touret acknowledges our collective debt to Rene Just Haüy; cleavage, a succinct summary of the phenomenon, by R.P. Richards; fluorescence and phosphorescence, in which W. Lieber presents an excellent overview of the phenomena applicable to the polymorphs; polarization and optical properties of calcite, an elegant synthesis by M. Gunter; reflection, refraction and twinning, where M. Gray expounds on developing kaleidoscope colors in cut calcite.

The section on selected important localities of calcite specimens deals in succession with: China, where, according to G. Liu, mining and trading of specimens began in the late 1980s only; India, where the masterly precis of B. Ottens highlights the three distinct generations of calcite crystals hosted in the Deccan flood basalts (a comprehensive article on this subject is scheduled to appear in Rocks and Minerals in 2004); Dal’negorsk, Russia, about which T. Huizing provides a delightful tour of some mineral deposits, which evidently have produced some of the world’s finest samples of calcite; Cumbria, U.K., for which M.P. Cooper provides a magnificent feast for the eyes, with text to match, and a focus on fabulous twins; Saint Andreasberg, Germany, to which ancient mining region in the Harz Mountains, G. Grundman offers a flashback; Romania, whose mines, according to M.L. Wilson, continue to produce beautiful specimens; mid-continent U.S.A., where T. Huizing shows why Mississippi-Valley-type deposits are such an important source of fine crystals of calcite, then goes on to explore the diversity and quality of calcite crystals from limestone quarries in the American Midwest; Michigan, U.S.A., according to S. Dyl and T. Huizing, source of many of the world’s best calcite specimens; Irai, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where L. Balzer reveals a few of the 350 distinct habits of calcite present in amethyst geodes in the Parana basalts, and an all-too-brief expose on “skunk calcite”. Does anyone out there really understand how or why these curiosities develop?

Two pages of key references nicely round off this beautifully balanced collector’s issue.

Who would have thought it likely? Here is an extremely commonplace mineral (over 600 forms, and thousands of habits), crucially important in industry, agriculture, and, according to a note on the back cover, a mineral that has been “. . .instrumental in shaping the worlds of microscopy, architecture, mineralogy, technology, physics and even the science of war”. Calcite conveys this message vividly, and having succeeded to such a degree must be recommended as a first-rate investment for mineral aficionados young and old, amateur and professional.