As seen on PBS's American Spring Live, one of America's great nature-writers explores the magic and science of feathers
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.
"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.