Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle

Author(s): Thor Hanson

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Now in paperback, this is Thor Hanson's critically-acclaimed natural and cultural history of nature's finest invention. Feathers are an evolutionary marvel: aerodynamic, insulating, and beguiling. Their story begins in the Jurassic period and leads through the development of flight to high fashion - from leaping dinosaurs to da Vinci sketches to showgirls on the Las Vegas Strip, they date back to the dawn of time. Yet their story has never been fully told. 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 palaeontologists, 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 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. Informed by Hanson's own field experiences form Africa to Antarctica, "Feathers" deftly traces a history of evolution, fluff, flight, fancy and function. A captivating and beautifully-written exploration of the human fascination with a most enchanting object, "Feathers" transports readers from mythical associations with the divine to the height of modern-day science and technology.


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"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 "An illuminating study of an evolutionary marvel." Economist "Thor Hanson's Feathers is a sparkling history of the protein-based structures that keep birds aloft. Flitting between the aerodynamics of flight, thermodynamics of heat regulation, aesthetics of courtship and plenty more besides, Hanson provides an accessible and interesting introduction to what could have proved a dry topic. 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 skilful way Hanson combines the two makes this book popular natural history at its best." New Scientist "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 "Feathers will encourage you to look at flight differently. In fact, it will make you want to gently pick up a sparrow and take a good look at what you have been missing... Damn good book." BBC Wildlife Magazine "A beautifully written account of the natural history of the feather, a seemingly simple object that is used not just by birds, but in many different ways throughout human civilization... Feathers is a historic and truly interesting insight into how an everyday object can be marvelled at." Cage & Aviary Birds"

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 and a member of the Human Ecosystems Study Group. Hanson's first book, The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda, won the 2008 USA Book New Award for Nature Writing. Thor lives with his wife on an island in Washington State.

General Fields

  • : 9780465028788
  • : The Perseus Books Group
  • : Perseus Books,U.S.
  • : June 2012
  • : United States
  • : June 2012
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Thor Hanson
  • : Paperback
  • : 612
  • : 573.597
  • : 288
  • : 30 b/w illustrations