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Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracleby Thor Hanson
Synopses & Reviews
Feathers are an evolutionary marvel: aerodynamic, insulating, beguiling. They date back more than 100 million years. Yet their story has never been fully told.
In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn through time and place. Applying the research of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and even art historians, Hanson asks: What are feathers? How did they evolve? What do they mean to us?
Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered, and they are at the root of biology's most enduring debate. They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice. They have decorated queens, jesters, and priests. And they have inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen.
Feathers is a captivating and beautiful exploration of this most enchanting object.
"A fascinating book...all of it unusually well-written. Highly recommended." Peter Matthiessen, National Book Award winning author of The Snow Leopard and Shadow Country
"Feathers is simply a splendid book! Even for one biased toward butterfly scales, their closest competitors in the animal raiment line, feathers in all their glory can only be seen as astonishing. With elegance and wit, Thor Hanson captures not only their awesome esthetics, but also the astonishing evolution, historical and cultural impact, and sheer wonder of avian plumage. Rendered in exquisite detail with delicate touch, like a feather-painting of old, this is the best kind of natural history — quilled by a real field biologist who is also a fine writer." Robert Michael Pyle, author of Wintergreen and Mariposa Road
"Feathers are truly remarkable. In this book Hanson shows how they are the key to many of the most fascinating and diverse aspects of bird biology, how they have affected our understanding of evolution, and how they have and are enriching our everyday lives. This is science written in clear and entertaining prose; a great read." Bernd Heinrich, Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Vermont; author of Winter World and Mind of the Raven
"Thor Hanson has captured the wonders of feathers in gripping prose that will likely change forever how you look at birds and their colorful adornments. This is rich and engaging ornithology at its best." Frank B. Gill, author of Ornithology
"If you feel a sudden need to read about dinosaurs, flyfishing, muttonbirds, and showgirls, this is your book! Absolutely fascinating history, and a terrific read, Feathers is another Thor Hanson classic!" Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
"A fascinating book about the most remarkable — and beautiful — of all avian evolutionary adaptations, with wonderful accounts of ornithological investigations and the solving of biological quandaries and questions, all of it unusually well-written. Highly recommended." Peter Matthiessen, National Book Award winning author of The Snow Leopard and Shadow Country
"[Hanson] has produced a winning book about the extraordinary place of feathers in animal and human history...like all true birdwatchers, Mr. Hanson knows it isn't just the bird at the far end of the binoculars but the human being at the near end that matters, and he is writing as much about the human urge to understand, appreciate and appropriate the wild world as he is writing about feathers, which he calls, in his subtitle, a 'natural miracle.'...Feathers is an earthbound book, but this does not keep the author — or the reader — from looking up in wonder." Wall Street Journal
"[A] fine book....Mr. Hanson's pleasure in feathers is infectious....[Feathers] is gracious, funny, persuasive and wide ranging. Feathers, Mr. Hanson reminds us, teach a remarkable amount about evolution, insulation, engineering, archaeology and fashion. Better still, as this book shows, they allow not only birds but the human imagination to take flight." New York Times
"[A] sparkling history....Well-written science adds gravity to the more featherweight content of witty anecdotes — from interviews with feather-clad Las Vegas showgirls to plucking roadkill in the name of biology. The skillful way Hanson combines the two makes this book popular natural history at its best." New Scientist
"[D]elightful....[A] fascinating inquiry into one of those common things that are easy to overlook until someone shows what a miracle it is....Birds, the only animals with feathers today, wear these magic coats of stunning variety whose forms so perfectly fit their functions. Hanson's book reveals much about that marvelous magic." Seattle Times
"[E]njoyable, wide-ranging, and well-researched....Highly recommended for birders and science buffs." Library Journal (starred review)
"[E]ngaging....For all the intriguing science, what really livens up Hanson's passionate discussion of his 'natural miracle' are the stories he tells." Maclean's
"Thor Hanson's storytelling is enhanced by his infectious excitement....Hanson's tale is comprehensive, accurate, timely and engaging....Feathers is a compelling introduction to one of nature's wonders." Nature
"Hanson writes in a colorful, conversational, and non-technical manner that conveys his enthusiasm for the subject....The book offers a readable introduction to feathers and what they mean for birds and mankind." Science
The natural and cultural history of how people, birds, and the feather came together.
They've inspired legends and literature, from Icarus to Shakespeare. They've inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen. They've decorated queens, jesters, plague doctors, Aztec priests, and the fabled birds of paradise. They silence the flight of owls, give shimmer to hummingbirds, and keep penguins dry below the ice. They are at the root of biology's most enduring debate. It goes without saying, the importance and intrigue of feathers is patent.
In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson tells a sweeping natural history of feathers, as they've been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn through time and place. A captivating and beautifully-written exploration of the human fascination with feathers, this book transports readers from mythical associations with the divine to the height of modern-day science and technology.
About the Author
Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Switzer Environmental Fellow, and member of the Human Ecosystems Study Group. His first book, The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda, won the 2008 USA Book News Award for nature writing. Hanson lives with his wife on an island in Washington State.
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