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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.
"'As light as a feather,' 'a feather in her cap,' 'you could have knocked me over with a feather' are just a few examples of how feathers permeate conversation. We usually think about feathers when we're trying to identify a bird at the feeder on our deck, but feathers are found in pillows, sleeping bags, and fertilizer, and a century or two ago they supplied writing instruments and women's hats. Conservation biologist Hanson (The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda) takes readers on a wide-ranging tour of the world of feathers, from Las Vegas revues, whose performers wear thousands of dollars' worth (and they're heavier than you think), to the world of fly fishing, where unscrupulous collectors illegally seek out rare feathers for their lures. Hanson divides his book into five sections: Evolution, Fluff, Flights, Fancy, and Function. He explains clearly for generalists why paleontologists now believe many dinosaurs sported plumage. On the grand tour of Vegas, Hanson visits a shop that still dyes feathers by hand, and in Washington, D.C., he visits scientists at the Smithsonian whose expertise is identifying plumage. Hanson also recounts many personal encounters with feathers and their avian owners in the wild. Readers from science buffs to those interested in cultural history will find this a worthwhile afternoon's read. Illus. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“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 aesthetics, 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
"[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." The Wall Street Journal
Book News Annotation:
The science, evolution, and practice of studying and identifying feathers are the subject of this delightful book for the general reader. The author traveled widely, interviewing specialists, to piece together what we know about feathers: the almost impossible genius of their many uses and effectiveness, the history of their study and use as ornament, and the current theories about their evolution, based on fossils found in Wyoming, Liaoning, China, and elsewhere. The volume is well-illustrated with drawings. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The natural and cultural history of how people, birds, and the feather came together.
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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