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In Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle, 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. 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. They've inspired legends and literature, from Icarus to Shakespeare. They've linked 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.
Informed by Hanson's own field experiences from Africa to Antarctica, Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle deftly traces a history of evolution, fluff, flight, fancy, and function. 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.
Thor Hanson works as a conservation biologist and has studied Central American trees and songbirds, nest predation in Tanzania, and the grisly feeding habits of African vultures. He is a Switzer Environmental Fellow, a member of the Human Ecosystems Study Group, and a peer reviewer for nine different scientific journals. In the 1990s, he served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda, where he helped establish the mountain gorilla tourism program in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Hanson's writing has appeared in both popular and scientific publications. 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.
"Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle 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, [and] how they have affected our understanding of evolution."
- Bernd Heinrich, Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Vermont; author of Winter World and Mind of the Raven