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Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating Hardcover – June 8, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


". . . [a] remarkable history of evolutionary innovations in silk spinning by spiders. . . effective and entertaining."--Quarterly Review of Biology
(Quarterly Review of Biology)

". . . an ideal introduction to spiders and a tempting peek at the field of silk research that. . . will leave the reader forever fascinated and enthused by these wonderful web weavers."--BioScience (BioScience)

Spider Silk—a wonderful, charismatic natural history of spiders—will truly inspire all readers who may never before have appreciated this unique group of organisms.”—Margaret Lowman, author of Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology and of It’s a Jungle Up There: More Tales from the Treetops
(Meg Lowman)

“This is a compelling and immensely readable account that engages the reader from start to finish and that I found difficult to put down.” –Tim R. New, Journal of Insect Conservation
(Tim R. New Journal of Insect Conservation)

Recipient of the 2011 "Highly Recommended Book Award" presented by the Boston Authors Club
(Boston Authors Club Highly Recommended Book Boston Authors Club 2011-01-01)

Named the Silver Winner for the  2010 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the Nature category 
(2010 Book of the Year Award in Nature ForeWord Magazine 2010-01-01)

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the Zoology category.
(Choice Outstanding Academic Title Choice 2012-03-12)

About the Author

Leslie Brunetta is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Technology Review, and the Sewanee Review; on NPR; and elsewhere. Catherine L. Craig is an internationally recognized evolutionary biologist, arachnologist, and authority on silk.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st Ed. edition (June 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300149220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300149227
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,936,673 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Spiders have terrible reputations. They are blamed (sometimes without reason) for bites to humans and even for human deaths, although such occurrences are rare. But they really do us almost nothing but good, because they keep down the insect populations that would otherwise really bother us. They are also being spotlighted as guides to the mechanics of evolution. That role is highlighted in _Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating_ (Yale University Press) by Leslie Brunetta and Catherine L. Craig. The former is a freelance writer and the latter is an evolutionary biologist who is an authority on silk. Their book is fine as a primer on what spiders do with silk (it isn't just webs), and every chapter has amazing facts about spider behavior or the different properties of the different silks they make. Best of all, though, is that the book gives an arachnologist's-eye-view of evolution, summarizing the ideas of Darwin (and Wallace), Mendel, and even E. B. White (who did a surprising amount of research on spiders and webs for _Charlotte's Web_). It would be an advantage to have some acquaintance with evolution and chromosomes before going to this book, as the introductions to big topics like gene duplication are brisk. Nonetheless, there is surprising light thrown onto many topics via the studies of spiders and especially of their silks, and the authors display throughout good humor and a keen ability to make specialty topics plain.

One of the fascinating parts of this book is that it shows that the radial web is no such pinnacle. We like those orb webs; they are pretty, and appeal to our senses of symmetry and geometric bull's-eye precision. They are also so obviously practical.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I saw this book on Gizmodo, and was intrigued by the thought of social spiders, so I bought it. I was shocked that the book is an extremely thorough breakdown of of all spiders and how they use silk, or how they have learned to survive, and thrive without it. It covers all the different types of silk in use and how it evolved. As an arachniphobic, I found it very theraputic to learn about these creatures that I fear.
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Format: Hardcover
More than just a book about spiders and their habits, "Spider Silk" takes us on a whirlwind tour a hundreds of millions years of spider evolution. The book is just as much about the processes that lay behind evolution- or descent with modifications - that brought spiders from seaside, burrow-dwelling opportunists to precision spinners of a thousand ecological niches. Leslie Brunetta and Catherine L. Craig lay their story out in rough chronological order by telling us about early spiders whose descendants still live among us, largely unchanged. The earliest spiders were segmented, much in the way that their crustacean ancestors were, a morphological feature still seen in "primitive" mesotheles. The quotes are placed because no animal feature can be considered primitive, in the sense of inferior, when it continues to provide survival value. Brunetta and Craig discuss spiders who used silk to line their burrows, then those who branched out to lay silky trip lines, create ground-hugging burrows, then vertical burrows, and then the fantastical airborne webs we usually associate with spiders.

The book is as much a paean to evolution and diversity as it is to a particular animal. Spiders happen to exhibit diversity of shape and behavior that is tempting to ascribe to a designer, but which is easy to trace back to earlier models. A spider that spins four kinds of silk is easily seen as a descendant of one that spun three or two or one. Each species is suitable to it habitat, with none being the perfect exemplar of its family. Brunetta and Craig also take us into the world of genetics, giving us a primer on the chemistry of silk and on the way it is produced by the genes. They also do a great job of introducing the layman to the way that genetic errors occur.
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Format: Hardcover
My mother does not like spiders. She really, really does not like spiders.

But I do.

I approached Leslie Brunetta and Catherine L. Craig's Spider Silk with hope and dread. Hope that I might learn a lot more about spiders. Dread that the authors would mangle evolutionary theory with over-simplification while trying to use spider silk to teach the general public about natural selection.

One of these emotions was unnecessary and wrong.

First the hope. Spider Silk is not just a compilation of all the cool trivia the authors could dig up about spiders. They present a metric ton of information at all levels of detail, from molecular and genetic to ecological and systematic, in the framework of a coherent narrative. There are a lot of facts, but none of them are superfluous.

As a biologist, I appreciated that the authors were willing to get into the molecular details of spider silk and how those details contribute to the properties of this fascinating material.

Throughout, Brunetta and Craig build your interest, encourage you to think, and then reward your curiosity. Numerous times I found myself thinking "What about this?" or "What if that?". Invariably, the answer or a discussion on that topic would appear a chapter or two down the road.

For example, halfway through Spider Silk I found myself wondering what kind of spider silk (yes, individual spiders produce multiple types) Charlotte would have used to write "Some Pig" in EB White's Charlotte's Web. In the second to last chapter, the authors not only told me which type EB White had Charlotte using, but also which type a real spider would probably use.

Now the dread.
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