Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New Natural History: Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson.

This book has been written in the tradition of popular natural history writing established by the likes of Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and David Quammen; it comes with the recommendation of two of my favorite contemporary natural history writers, Peter Matthiessen and Bernd Heinrich. If you’ve enjoyed those writers, you will love this book. Feathers is not only an exploration of the natural history of feathers, but an exploration of their cultural meaning to humans, an engaging application of the minutely observed and scientific to an aspect of nature that we find enchanting, mythical, and imaginatively elusive. Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered, and Hanson explores their myriad uses and biological importance: their significance in the evolution of flight, their use in temperature control, protection, and sexual attraction. Feathers are also at the center of one of evolutions enduring debates: whether birds are dinosaurs. From our ethereal dreams of flight to the very practical business of Ostrich farming, this book is a story filled with interesting facts and lore, told with a lofting grace. It’s also got a really cool jacket design.

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