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Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World Hardcover – November, 1996

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 222 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co; 1st edition (November 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805042180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805042184
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,697,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Leeches, fire ants, dragonflies and mosquitoes; slime eels, giant squids, earthworms and fleas--this gallery of creepy-crawlies is enough to give anyone nightmares. Yet in his new book, Spineless Wonders, author Richard Conniff succeeds in making his subjects interesting if not exactly attractive. Conniff, a journalist, knows all too well that most people do not share his admiration for the invertebrates of the world, and so he sets out to demonstrate just what marvels of engineering they really are. From discussions of just how these creatures are made and how they survive, he goes on to tell stories about the people who study them. From the scientist who ate the only known specimen of a new species to the leech-farmer in Wales, Conniff paints a vivid picture of invertebrates and the people who love them, making even that slime eel seem almost appealing.

From Publishers Weekly

Invertebrates are literally spineless and much maligned. But we vetebrates are figuratively spineless, at least when it comes to the creepy, slimy, hairy horror evoked by that which "represents more than 99.5 percent of all animal species." Coniff (writer and producer of nature programs for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel) humbles us in his wonderfully weird, icky book, for he makes clear that without the fly to pollinate and the worm to till the earth, we would vanish. There is much to learn here: that leeches are being farmed and used medicinally (again); that in Texas, fire ants "frequently get to highway accident victims before the ambulance"; that the squid's mantle, when served up as calamari, is virtually fat free (Coniff even includes a recipe); that dragonflies have been clocked at 35 mph and that 440 fleas can be found on a single cat; that some moths smell so bad spiders set them free if caught in their webs. People are terrified of snakes and spiders, but the mosquito, Conniff tells us, is "the most dangerous animal on earth," spreading malaria, yellow fever, dengue and encephalitis, diseases that often change the course of human history. With humor, Conniff follows various eccentric characters (madly in love with their subjects, be they squid or slime eels) down tarantula's burrows and into dusty collection drawers. He points out that we have researched many invertebrates relentlessly in our effort to kill them off, only to learn in minutest detail what mirculous systems make life live. Readers may feel something crawling up their leg as they read this enlightening and entertaining book. Illustrations by Sally Bensusen. Rights, except electronic: The Spieler Agency.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 25, 1997
Format: Hardcover
An entire book about beetles, houseflies, worms, moths, and leeches? With an entire chapter on slime eels--aka hagfish--which burrow into dead fish and consume them from the inside out? You bet. As the author points out, the above-named creatures are but a few of the species that belong to the group of animals known as invertebrates, which not only lack a backbone, but also, pound for pound, far outweigh any other form of life on earth. "There are only 4,500 or so mammal species on the planet. There are, however, between ten million and thirty million invertebrate species. They represent more than 99.5 percent of all animal species. A spaceship visiting the blue planet would take them, not us, as the typical earthlings."
And invertebrates are often far more interesting than us boring old mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Take a fire ant queen, for example, who reproduces so wholeheartedly that her human equivalent would be a 120-pound woman giving birth to 500,000 babies each year. Or how about the mysterious giant squid--at sixty feet long and with eyes the size of headlights, the largest invertebrate alive--who lives five hundred fathoms beneath the ocean waves. (Nobody has ever seen one in its natural habitat.)
So who's the audience? Any adult with a taste for the more slithery residents of earth--or any parents who want to wow their own offspring with bizarre true-life tales of the scaly and slimy. (Twelve-year-olds on up, or ten-year-olds with a deep curiosity for all things gross, should have no trouble with it, either.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Soso R. Whaley on October 18, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Forget Jack Hannah and his media sound bites which teach you absolutely nothing about other species. This book is a must read for anyone who really wants to learn more about some of the most misunderstood and hated creatures on our planet. Easy to read, entertaining and educational, Richard Conniff spins tales guaranteed to shed new light on the invertebrate world and can be read and appreciated by young and old alike.
Recently I was fortunate enough to spend some time interviewing this talented author and was fascinated with his insight and true depth of feeling for the planet. It is a shame that the media suffers from tunnel vision when it comes to teaching the public about animals. Over and over we are presented with the same information about the same animals which limits our understanding of the importance of bio-diversity. Richard Conniff has worked for both the Discovery Channel and National Geographic and has travelled extensively, and with "Spineless Wonders" and his latest work "Every Creeping Thing" he has achieved what many strive for but very few accomplish.
Hats off to Mr. Conniff and if those talk shows had any sense they would book you immediately and discover what I already have, that you are an incredible resource for information about the relationships between humans and other species
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bookworm on February 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Richard Conniff's writing style is fun and easy to read. And although some of the facts he pours into the book may be gross, it's so interesting you are riveted. I think everyone-science lover or no-needs to read this book. I couldn't put the book down until I was done. Just to give you some extra info on what's in the book-he discusses many invertebrates such as flies, hagfish, moths and tarantulas, devoting a chapter to each invertebrate. He includes his adventures with these creatures along with it. Even the hardened scientist will find something new in this book!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tim F. Martin on March 2, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is more to the world of nature than cuddly koalas, magnificent whales, and beautifully singing birds. Most of the animal kingdom, and much of the biomass on the planet, are invertebrates! Insects, spiders, centipedes, molluscs, crustaceans, echnioderms, worms, all greatly outnumber vertebrates and are absolutely vital to continued life on earth, and all are greatly unappreciated by the average person.
Richard Conniff takes us on a representative tour of several members of the invertebrate world. Though he only scratches the surface, he shows us some of the most fascinating of the "creepy crawlies," creatures that often have few admirers in the media or popular culture. From the fascinating world of flies to the invaluable leech to the hated fire ant to beetles, fleas, and giant squid and beyond, Conniff shows us the astounding world of invertebrates.
Strictly speaking, Conniff includes one vertebrate in the mix, the lowly but extremely unusual hagfish, so it is not only invertebrates. Having said that though this was an excellent book, one well worth reading. Popular science writing at its best.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ken Miller on January 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
Conniff's book _Spineless Wonders_ had me fascinated, for the most part. His subject: invertebrates, with about ten different chapters on different creatures, such as leeches, dragonflies, tarantulas, etc. NOT ALL POPULAR INVERTEBRATES ARE COVERED IN THIS BOOK. In fact, if there is not a chapter devoted to your favorite invertebrate, there will be little or no information on that beast. There are many examples. Jellyfish, starfish, bees, crabs, clams, octopuses and lobsters are but a few that Conniff chose not to cover.
If you need detailed information about an invertebrate not covered in this book, or if you need more detail, I advise you to seek out a book on that specific beast. Also, you can look into Robert Barnes' book _Invertebrate Zoology_, but that best used at a public or college library.
On the plus side: there aren't many good books on invertebrates for a general audience, and _Spineless Wonders_ is one of them. Most folks, while they might be able to stomach ten or twenty pages on leeches, don't want an entire book on leeches. In fact, most full length books on leeches, dragonflies, etc. are indeed academic tracts targeted at serious collectors or graduate students and professors.
Conniff's writing is usually lucid and entertaining. He held my attention until the end of each chapter... almost. Still, there isn't much popular writing on invertebrates in general, so _Spineless Wonders_ is well worth a look.
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More About the Author

Richard Conniff writes about behavior on two, four, six, and eight legs. He has collected tarantulas in the Peruvian Amazon, tracked leopards with !Kung San hunters in the Namibian desert, climbed the Mountains of the Moon in western Uganda, and trekked through the Himalayas of Bhutan in pursuit of tigers and the mythical migur.

His latest book is The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth (Norton, November). Also now out in paperback is Swimming With Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals (Norton, 2009). He is the author of The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights, and Work Smarter By Understanding Human Nature (Crown, 2004), The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide (Norton, 2002); Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife (Holt, 1998); Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World (Holt, 1996); and other books.

The New York Times Book Review says, "Conniff is a splendid writer--fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can't resist quoting him."

Conniff also writes about wildlife, human cultures and other topics for Time, Smithsonian, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and other publications in the United States and abroad. His magazine work in Smithsonian won the 1997 National Magazine Award, and was included in The Best American Science and Nature Writing in 2000, 2002, and 2007. Conniff is also the winner of the 2001 John Burroughs Award for Outstanding Nature Essay of the Year, a 2009 Loeb Award for distinguished business journalism, a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship,and a 2012 Alicia Patterson Fellowship.

Conniff has been a frequent commentator on NPR and recently served as a guest columnist for The New York Times online. He has written and presented television shows for National Geographic, TBS, Animal Planet, the BBC, and Channel Four in the UK. His television work has been nominated for an Emmy Award for distinguished achievement in writing, and he won the 1998 Wildscreen Prize for Best Natural History Television Script for the BBC show Between Pacific Tides.

You can follow him on Twitter @RichardConniff, and on his blog

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