csonaEvery few years a field guide emerges with artwork so stunning the book is worth owning regardless of whether you plan to identify anything with it. Richard Bradley’s Common Spiders of North America (U.C. Press, 2013; $60) is just such a book. Buy it. You won’t regret it.

Each of the 82 color plates, created by illustrator Steve Buchanan, could be hung on the wall as standalone pieces. They are masterful, clean, and composed to easily discern diagnostic differences among similar species. The book even feels classy. Weighty, solid, consequential.

The text covers an introduction to arachnid biology, keys to larger spider groups, and cursory accounts of 469 commonly-encountered animals. Common Spiders won’t help with every species. After all, North America is home to at least 3,500 described spiders, so this book only touches 15% of the fauna. The specialist will still rely on technical literature. But if you are a general naturalist looking to put a name on the creatures you find around the house and garden, Bradley & Buchanan’s artful tome will serve beautifully.

Enough with the praise, though. This wouldn’t be a Myrmecos post if I didn’t find something to grumble about. Check out the plate format:


To the right, beautiful spiders. To the left, wasted space.

Once you have identified your mystery spider and wish to read more, you are directed to a blurb 50 or so pages away. Flip. Flip back. Flip again. Flip. Flip. Flip.

Yet, gaze across the vast white plains on the left. Pertinent biological and geographic information could just as well have been pasted across from the illustration. The book is unnecessarily cumbersome as a reference, and longer than it needs to be. This antiquated layout is a frustrating flaw for a book whose production obviously received a great deal of attention.

Still, the artwork makes Common Spiders an instant classic. Highly recommended.