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Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle Paperback – July 31, 2012
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Frank B. Gill, author of Ornithology
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.”
Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
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!”
Peter Matthiessen, National Book Award winning author of The Snow Leopard and Shadow Country
A fascinating book about the most remarkableand beautifulof 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.”
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 historyquilled by a real field biologist who is also a fine writer.”
Bernd Heinrich, Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Vermont; author of Winter World and Mind of the Raven
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.”
From basic research about bird biology and the evolutionary origins of feather to falconry, couture, and bioinspiration in industrial design, the book treats us to a series of engaging essays about feathers, both on and off the bird.... Hanson weaves his prior encounters with birds and his experiences as a scientist into the text, offering lively anecdotes about his student days and subsequent life as a professional grant-seeking field biologist. He is particularly adept at portraying how science really works . Hanson's prose is polished, lively, and evocative. The outcome is a book that is easy and entertaining to read, yet one that is able to satisfy our intellectual curiosity.... In Feathers, Hanson is remarkably successful at offering something for everyone. Readers from young adults to professional ornithologists and from those interested in nature to those more interested in human culture will enjoy this book.... Ultimately, Feathers is a book to read for pleasure, but along the way, we gain knowledge and insight into nature and our relationship with it.”
Bird Watcher's Digest
To read Feathers is to meet up with an enthusiastic old friend who simply cannot wait to tell you about something he just discovered. Deceptively conversational and fast moving, disguising the true depth of information it conveys with buoyant, good-humored prose, Feathers is a book not only intellectually accessible to anyone with an interest in the subject but also one that should be considered a must-read by bird watchers and naturalists of all levels of interest or experience.”
[C]aptivating.... Beginning with the evolution of birds, Hanson, a biologist, explains competing theories with ease, and unfolds the human fascination with feathers in terms of science, commerce, tools, folklore, art, and aerodynamics with panache. Anecdotes infuse the fascinating survey.”
[A] delight. As the name makes clear, it's all about featherstheir evolution, use by birds, and extremely high value to humans, from quill pens and trout flies to women's hats and Aztec emperor headdresses.”
[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.”
Library Journal (starred review)
[E]njoyable, wide-ranging, and well-researched.... Highly recommended for birders and science buffs.”
[E]ngaging.... For all the intriguing science, what really livens up Hanson's passionate discussion of his natural miracle' are the stories he tells.”
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.”
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.”
Wall Street Journal
[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 authoror the readerfrom looking up in wonder.”
New York Times
[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.”
[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 skilful way Hanson combines the two makes this book popular natural history at its best.”
About the Author
Top customer reviews
Okay, enough of that. I really enjoyed this book. It's told in an easy-to-read manner yet contains a wealth of scientific information. Like many people, I enjoy bird watching, but I am certainly no "birder," those insane people who travel the world with high powered binoculars searching for that elusive flutter. Even so, now when I look at the birds in my yard, I will contemplate just how amazing it is that they can fly, how feathers keep them warm and dry, how they signal to each other and attract mates.
If you're interested in birds or flight, I strongly recommend this book.
This book is not a guide to feather identification. For that, check out S. David Scott and Casey McFarland's A Guide to North American Species: Bird Feathers, which I also purchased from Amazon around the same time I bought FEATHERS. In this book, you get black and white images or drawings, not real photos, no color. But the cover itself is a work of art, with lots of texture, raised letters of FEATHERS going down the spine, and a sort of abused looking black feather as the only cover art on the textured matte white background paper...just almost an art paper.
The author is very much evident in every page, and I would enjoy sitting around his back yard drinking some homemade lemonade watching his chickens patrol the property for invading insects. If it has feathers, I like it, from the chicken to the buzzard or vulture to the parrot or cormorant. There is a feather for every purpose.
When my African grey was a wee chick learning to eat on his own, I placed a pallet on the floor and sat there with him. Full of himself, with flight feathers sprouting but not fully grown in, he'd flap vigorously enough that he got a wee bit of lift off the pallet. The problem as I saw it was he had to learn to LAND, so starting LOW was the best way to let him learn. From the first lift off, he seemed to get the desire to go further, and then to go higher. Pretty soon, he made it to the top of the bed, then the window sill, then the wooden chest, then the top of his tall cage. He could also go back down and he did, sometimes crashing on the bed, but never harming himself. At some point, he learned to back-stroke and take all weight off his feet and legs as he came down to the floor. I was so proud of him for learning to fly AND LAND. From here, he learned to navigate, and extended his range to flying multiple rings around the very large clear space of the living room. Of course, he is a true flying creature, but I can understand how two legged prehistoric creatures with forearms could discover their ability to fly, whether they went from the ground or the trees.
This book is imminently readable for a non-scientist, yet it has a very extensive bibliography included for further exploration of the topic. If you
like birds at all, you will enjoy this book. I won't be giving this one away. On a wall of books, it stands out, cannot be ignored.
His writing style is so relaxed and engaging that one forgets that it is an accurate scientific study. With the exception of the section, Evolution, which get a little heavy with names of dinosaurs, the rest of the volume is really story-telling, sometimes suspenseful, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but always loaded with fascinating, well documented, readily understood information.
After Evolution which compares and evaluates various theories of avian development and adaptation, and includes some of the latest news concerning fossil discoveries, the work is divided into four main chapters:
Fluff - Keeping warm, staying cool. How do feathers prevent a bird from freezing in the arctic and from succumbing to heat stroke in the tropics?
Flight - Ground-up or Tree-down? How did flight begin? The amazing airfoil that aeronautical engineers are continually studying.
Fancy - Display - the dynamics of color in plumage.
Function - Waterproofing, lack of plumage, flightless birds. Quill pens.
Among interesting tidbits, we find Mr. Hanson has gone sky-diving with a Peregrine Falcon, has studied goose feather-dying with the creator of the Vegas show-girl costumes, has picked up a lost Common Murre on a county road and returned it to the sea, and has interviewed a ornithologist who discovered that the Club-winged Manakin plays a violin!
The book includes an illustrated guide to types of feathers - flight, contour, semiplume and down, and an illustrated description of how feathers grow and molt.
This is an extraordinary book about the extraordinary place of feathers in animal and human history.
This morning when I picked up a molted dove feather in my backyard, I looked at it with renewed wonder and admiration. It is some kind of miracle.