The Book of the Spider

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"Little Miss Muffet is not the only one who's ever been terrified by a spider. In fact, arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders, afflicts millions around the world. Some people are so tormented that they cannot ever relax, even at home, for fear they'll encounter a "creepy crawler." And yet, a love of spiders — or at least a fascination with them — touches just as many millions, perhaps more.

Though some spiders are dangerous, even deadly, most are perfectly harmless — except to smaller bugs. In The Book of the ...

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Overview

"Little Miss Muffet is not the only one who's ever been terrified by a spider. In fact, arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders, afflicts millions around the world. Some people are so tormented that they cannot ever relax, even at home, for fear they'll encounter a "creepy crawler." And yet, a love of spiders — or at least a fascination with them — touches just as many millions, perhaps more.

Though some spiders are dangerous, even deadly, most are perfectly harmless — except to smaller bugs. In The Book of the Spider, naturalist Paul Hillyard examines the engaging world of arachnids and the humorous and frequently absurd ways in which humans respond to this most misunderstood of God's creatures.

Hillyard, an arachnologist at the Natural History Museum in London, covers the full spider spectrum, from folklore and myths to Aristotle's early scientific studies to Space Age spiders building webs in outer space.

There are more than 35,000 known spider species of all shapes and sizes on planet Earth, and Hillyard addresses a plethora of questions obvious and odd, obscure and intriguing:
— Why is black-widow venom more dangerous than a rattlesnake bite?
— How can humans forecast weather by observing a spider's actions?
— What's the best cooking method for spider a la carte?
— Why are spiderwebs often used to dress wounds and coagulate blood?
— How can spiders be beneficial in the cure of headaches, fevers, and even sexual impotence?

In The Book of the Spider these and other questions are pondered and answered in a manner that no lover — or detester — of spiders will ever forget.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like a cunningly designed web, Hillyard's survey and appreciation of the world's most despised, yet most beloved, creepy-crawlies will ensnare readers from arachnophobes to arachnophiles. Hillyard, who maintains the national collection of spiders at London's Natural History Museum, knows a good spider story when he hears one, and tells many here. In an engaging yet scientifically rigorous manner, he covers arachnophobia; spiders in myth and literature; venomous, aeronautic and other types of spiders; webs and spider silk; the conservation of spiders and the history of spiderology. He serves up tales of folk remedies that call for eating live spiders; of the Australian funnel-web spider, which "strikes repeatedly and furiously at anything that moves"; of how, in 1876, a Chinese delegation presented Queen Victoria with a gown made of spider silk; of New Guinea natives using spiderwebs as fish-nets; of American arachnologist W.J. Baerg coolly observing the effects of his experiment in being bitten by a black widow. The only strand missingand sorely missedin Hillyard's design is any thorough discussion of spiders in popular culture, particularly in film. Even so, this literary web holds strong and tight, and is a must destination for anyone fascinated by these eight-legged, many-eyed, venom-dripping, fanged beasts of prey. Illustrations not seen by PW. (July)
Library Journal
Hillyard is a spider specialist at the Natural History Museum in London. His entertaining book, first published in England in 1994, discusses the spider in folklore, literature, history, and science. Sharing the spotlight are some well-known and occasionally eccentric scholars and naturalists who have sought, collected, and studied spiders, from Aristotle to modern times. This is by no means a field guide or catalog of species but a work about spiders in general. Hillyard does feature groups that he finds particularly interesting, such as the tarantulas, trap-door, jumping, aquatic, and social spiders. There are chapters on arachnophobia, spider venom and bites, webs and silk, and conservation. A chapter on folklore, myths, and literature includes excerpts from the Bible, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, E.B. White (Charlotte's Web), and many others. Recommended for public and academic libraries, this is an excellent choice for browsing collections.William H. Wiese, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Ray Olson
It is as much fun to skip around in this survey of the arachnid order Araneae as it is to read it straight through, for Hillyard's presentation is casual rather than systematic. Instead of bounding directly into biology, he opens with chapters on arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and spiders in folklore, myth, literature, and (gulp!) cuisine. Subsequent chapters take up the spider characteristics their titles indicate--"Aeronautic Spiders," "Venomous Spiders," "Webs and Silk" --and showcase "Remarkable Spiders." Chapters on the history of spider discovery in South America, the history of the study of spiders, and spider conservation continue Hillyard's easygoing, fact-and-anecdotedispensing style. The physiological detail that other popular natural historians trot out right away Hillyard saves until the closing chapter, where it figures in an argument for progressing from fear to love of spiders. Because of the congenial fascination of what precedes it, that argument is remarkably cogent.
Kirkus Reviews
A fine, pleasantly avuncular compendium of arachnoid lore from Hillyard, a specialist at London's Natural History Museum.

Yes, Hillyard readily admits, he is an arachnophile, and he wants you to be one, too. So he has gathered a fascinating social history, one any web-weaving critter can be proud of: star character in the Navajo creation myth, spinner of fine gossamer, long-distance traveler requiring nothing more than a strand of silk and a gentle wind. But Hillyard is careful to offer a few terrifying facts, wisely buffing the spider's tarnished image just so much. For it is a sad fact of nature that the arachnoid barrel harbors some really rotten apples, creatures with toxic brio enough to kill a horse in a few short hours. But why dwell on the macabre, suggests Hillyard, when there is beauty and talent to admire: Spiders have inspired artists from Shakespeare (he was no friend) to the wizards behind the Nazcan lines; they have served as medicinal cures for fever and ague and, when ingested by the handful, for constipation (who could doubt?). They're appreciated as forecasters of the weather, spinners of fantastic webs, eaters of all those insect pests. Who but a tarantula, hailing from Taranto in Italy, could have spawned the tarantella, that spirited dance thought to spell relief from the hairy fellow's bite? Despite their reputation, Hillyard notes, spiders are delicate things, an ideal indicator of environmental quality. And if you can't love them, then pity them their feeble eyesight, their bad digestion and poor circulation; let your heart go out to the male of the species and his miserable postcopulatory prospects.

Dryly humorous and, appropriately, captivating. As creatures who need all the friends they can get, spiders should proclaim a Hillyard Day.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679408819
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/13/1996
  • Edition description: 1st U.S. Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.91 (w) x 8.65 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Hillyard has been a spider specialist at London's Natural History Museum since 1974. Besides spiders, he is also interested in scorpions and ticks. He lives in London with his wife.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Arachnophobia 3
2 Folklore, Myths, and Literature 15
3 Aeronautic Spiders 50
4 Venomous Spiders 59
5 Remarkable Spiders 80
6 Webs and Silk 106
7 The Discovery of Spiders in South America 133
8 A Brief History of Spiderology 146
9 Conservation of Spiders 179
10 From Arachnophobia to the Love of Spiders 184
References 195
Index 207
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