Feathers The evolution of a natural miracle

Thor Hanson

Book - 2011

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Subjects
Published
New York : Basic Books c2011.
Language
English
Physical Description
xvi, 336 p. : ill., map ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780465020133
0465020135
Main Author
Thor Hanson (-)
  • Introduction: natural miracle
  • Evolution : The Rosetta Stone
  • Heat shields, gliders, and insect scoops
  • The Yixian Formation
  • How to catch a muttonbird
  • Fluff : Keeping warm
  • Staying cool
  • Flight : Ground-up or tree-down?
  • A feathered hammer
  • The perfect airfoil
  • Fancy : The birds of paradise
  • A feather in her cap
  • Give us those nice bright colors
  • Function : Of murres and muddlers
  • The mighty Penna
  • The featherless head
  • Conclusion: a debt of wonder
  • Appendix A: an illustrated guide to feathers
  • Appendix B: feathers and conservation.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Humans have been enthralled by feathers for millennia. The most efficient insulation ever discovered, feathers can also repel water, attract a mate, hide potential prey, make sounds—and, oh yes, allow flight. Feathers are uniquely avian, but where did they come from? Thor Hanson, author (The Impenetrable Forest, 2008) and field biologist, investigates the seemingly simple feather in this fascinating and eminently readable exploration of quills and plumes. From the dinosaur-bird controversy—are birds just feathered dinosaurs?—to the human use of down, Hanson looks at feathers from biological, paleontological, and sociological viewpoints. Whether he's plucking a road-killed winter wren (this tiny bird sported more than 1,000 feathers), tying his own Silver Hilton fishing fly, trying to snag a nestling muttonbird from its burrow, or observing the feathering of showgirl costumes and couture hats, Hanson imparts a captivating and addictive story that is as intriguing as the feathers themselves. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Conservation biologist Hanson (The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda) may be the first to consider feathers in many contexts: paleontology, evolution, physiology, anatomy, aerodynamics, fashion, culture, literature, and history. In this enjoyable, wide-ranging, and well-researched book, Hanson explains the mechanisms whereby feathers keep birds cool or warm; the complex—at times extravagant—role feathers play in wild bird courtship; the controversies among scientists as to how and why feathers evolved; feather forensics, useful in crime and aircraft crash investigations; the millinery trade (feathers as fashion); and the modern use of feathers and the dynamics of the bedding and clothing industries they support. Useful appendixes include heavily annotated diagrams of different feather types and a brief list of major conservation associations. VERDICT Highly recommended for birders and science buffs.—Henry T. Armistead, formerly with Free Lib. of Philadelphia [Page 109]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

"As light as a feather," "a feather in her cap," "you could have knocked me over with a feather" are just a few examples of how feathers permeate conversation. We usually think about feathers when we're trying to identify a bird at the feeder on our deck, but feathers are found in pillows, sleeping bags, and fertilizer, and a century or two ago they supplied writing instruments and women's hats. Conservation biologist Hanson (The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda) takes readers on a wide-ranging tour of the world of feathers, from Las Vegas revues, whose performers wear thousands of dollars' worth (and they're heavier than you think), to the world of fly fishing, where unscrupulous collectors illegally seek out rare feathers for their lures. Hanson divides his book into five sections: Evolution, Fluff, Flights, Fancy, and Function. He explains clearly for generalists why paleontologists now believe many dinosaurs sported plumage. On the grand tour of Vegas, Hanson visits a shop that still dyes feathers by hand, and in Washington, D.C., he visits scientists at the Smithsonian whose expertise is identifying plumage. Hanson also recounts many personal encounters with feathers and their avian owners in the wild. Readers from science buffs to those interested in cultural history will find this a worthwhile afternoon's read. Illus. (June) [Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A biologist presents the natural history of feathers, applying the findings of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers and art historians to answer questions about the origin of feathers, their evolution and their uses throughout the ages.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A biologist presents the natural history of feathers, applying the findings of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and art historians to answer questions about the origin of feathers, their evolution, and their uses throughout the ages.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The science, evolution, and practice of studying and identifying feathers are the subject of this delightful book for the general reader. The author traveled widely, interviewing specialists, to piece together what we know about feathers: the almost impossible genius of their many uses and effectiveness, the history of their study and use as ornament, and the current theories about their evolution, based on fossils found in Wyoming, Liaoning, China, and elsewhere. The volume is well-illustrated with drawings. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 4

Feathers are an evolutionary marvel: aerodynamic, insulating, beguiling. They date back more than 100 million years. Yet their story has never been fully told.In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have 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, and they are at the root of biology's most enduring debate. They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice. They have decorated queens, jesters, and priests. And they have inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen.Feathers is a captivating and beautiful exploration of this most enchanting object.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

The natural and cultural history of how people, birds, and the feather came together