Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Feathers: the Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson

I always thought of scales, fur, and feathers as being roughly equivalent ways of covering skin, but not so. Feathers are better at insulation, waterproofing, decoration, flight, and many other uses according to the needs of those who grow them. Of course humans have found many uses for feathers even though we don't grow them.

Like an old friend on a road trip, Hanson takes us along as he pursues his questions about feathers in science and culture. Those questions take him from Las Vegas showgirls to Chinese fossil beds. We learn about dinosaur fuzz and how the way an individual feather grows may be the key to understanding their evolution. We even meet a bird that can play its feathers like a violin.

Hanson's chatty style and personal stories make this a quick trip in spite of the wide range of information covered. Black and white photos and diagrams are scattered throughout Feathers while notes and sources are at the end with the index. If birds are your passion, you may also like Welcome to Subirdia by John M. Marzluff. For another exploration of a biological artifact, try Spirals in Time: the Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen Scales. 

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

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