Books  Ornithology  Biology, Ecology & Behaviour 

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle

Popular Science

By: Thor Hanson(Author)

336 pages, b/w illustrations

Basic Books

2 customer reviews
Paperback | Aug 2012 | #196498 | ISBN-13: 9780465028788
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £11.99 $15 / €14 approx
Hardback | Jun 2011 | #187625 | ISBN-13: 9780465020133
Out of Print Details

About this book

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.

"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

Reviews (2)

Simply perfect!
By Liura 31 Oct 2013 Written for Paperback

As a brazilian botanic I've never thought to read a feather's book... But also as a graphic designer the cover got me! And I have to say: I'm not disapointed in any fields! :)

The book is full of fun! You start it and wanna finish ASAP!

Only the pictures that are better in color, but even in black and white they make this part on this piece of wonderful!

It's a "must have" book! ;)

Regards, Liura.

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Interesting and inspiring
By Kenny 5 Apr 2014 Written for Paperback

I read this book when it came out for my weekly pet column:

This book just came out in August and is written by a conservationist. His experiences studying birds from Africa to Antartica are used with the help of art historians, paleontologists, biologists, engineers and even fashion designers, to figure out the evolution, flight, fancy and function of feathers. I have this strong fascination with feathers and eggs, so this book was perfect for me.
The book starts with the famous fossil Archaeopteryx. This was an ancient animal that looked part reptile and part bird. It was discovered in 1861 and instantly sparked debates regarding if it was the “missing link” in the evolution of dinosaurs to birds. One story that I really enjoyed was how the fossil was used as a payment for the quarryman’s health bills. The discoverer had a serious chest infection from working in the mine and used the fossil to see the doctor. If he only would have known how important that fossil truly was he could have paid for a lot more than an office visit.
The book is 272 pages. In later chapters Hanson, discuses why vultures have featherless heads and why some birds have long trains of feathers and why some models like to mimic birds, like the showgirls of Las Vegas.

To learn more about my review you can check out my pet column page:

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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.

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