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Spiders, objects of eternal human fascination, are found in many places: on the ground, in the air, and even under water. Leslie Brunetta and Catherine Craig have teamed up to produce a substantive yet entertaining book for anyone who has ever wondered, as a spider rappelled out of reach on a line of silk, "How do they do that?"
The orb web, that iconic wheel-shaped web most of us associate with spiders, contains at least four different silk proteins, each performing a different function and all meshing together to create a fly-catching machine that has amazed and inspired humans through the ages. Brunetta and Craig tell the intriguing story of how spiders evolved over 400 million years to add new silks and new uses for silk to their survival "toolkit" and, in the telling, take readers far beyond the orb. The authors describe the trials and triumphs of spiders as they use silk to negotiate an ever-changing environment, and they show how natural selection acts at the genetic level and as individuals struggle for survival.
Leslie Brunetta is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Technology Review, and the Princeton Alumni Weekly as well as on NPR and elsewhere.
Catherine L. Craig, author of the monograph Spiderwebs and Silk, is an internationally recognized evolutionary biologist, arachnologist, and authority on silk.
"This is a fascinating and readable account of one of the great, overlooked mysteries of life."
– Simon Barnes, The Times
"[...] [a] remarkable history of evolutionary innovations in silk spinning by spiders [...] effective and entertaining."
– 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."
"This wonderful book cures arachnophobia for any lucky reader. Brunetta and Craig combine superb scholarship with engaging writing, providing a compelling introduction to evolution in action through the lens of spiders and their silks."
– Simon Levin, Princeton University, author of Fragile Dominion
"From black widows to balloon-riders and bola-swingers, spider evolution depends critically on a few proteins in silk. Brunetta and Craig weave genetics and behavior into a silky-smooth portrait of this fascinating group."
– Richard Wrangham, Harvard University, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
"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
"In Spider Silk, Leslie Brunetta and Catherine Craig offer a history of this marvelous stuff that readers will find surprisingly compelling – for not only the astonishing complexity of spider silk itself, but also the many uses that spiders have created over the ages. It is, in other words, the epitome of evolutionary innovation."
– Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution
"The book is full of amusing facts and observations. Definitely for the general reader with a keen interest in natural history."
– Tibor Fischer, Sunday Telegraph
"This is a compelling and immensely readable account that engages the reader from start to finish [...] A helpful index is also included, and a series of colour plates illustrate some of the book's subjects and themes [...] This well-produced book is a valuable and enjoyable contribution to fostering awareness of spider evolution [...] Buy it for your own interest, or as a gift for your favourite arachnophobe – you might just make a convert!"
– Tim R. New, Journal Of Insect Conservation
"Spider Silk weaves together principles of genetics, biochemistry and evolution to explain the diversity and function of spider's silks. This book is a model for next generation biology texts."
– Cynthia Sagers, University of Arkansas
"The language is lively and a passion for the subject shines through."
– Sue Howarth, The Biologist Vol.57 No.3
"Supremely absorbing book."
– Ben Hoare, BBC Wildlife Magazine
"Spider Silk is an educational, thoughtful, fun and compelling read. Each chapter presents the reader with a logical progression of the spider species' evolution – from early common ancestors millions of years ago to spiders we come into contact with everyday [...] After reading this book, it is hard not to stop and marvel at the complexity of spiders and their webs."
– Rachael A. Carmen, Springer
"Well written [...] Very readable."
– Ruth Grierson, Mount Desert Islander