Feathers; The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson Basic Books, Philadelphia PA. 2011
Discovery, questions and the search for possible explanations, such is the joyous nature of science. Thor Hanson immediately engages the reader as a friend and invites you to share his journey of discovery about feathers. His comfortable voice weaving scientific accuracy and engaging story reminded me of another of my favorite science writers Bernd Heinrich (The Geese of Beaver Bog). When Hanson began to mention a professor with a cabin in the Maine woods, I knew it was no coincidence. Thor Hanson studied under Heinrich and carries on with his professor’s insightful way of making science accessible to a broad audience.
From dinosaur fossils haloed with imprints of their feathers to specially dyed and designed feather costumes worn onstage in Las Vegas, Hanson explores the origins, function, miraculous qualities, beauty and yet undiscovered abilities of fluff and quill. Did you know that the reason Dickens's Tiny Tim was anticipating a holiday goose dinner was because the number of geese needed to furnish the feathers for quill pens meant that there were a lot of geese available at the butcher shop? With the replacement of the quill pen, geese gradually moved off our menu.
Feathers have driven people to do amazing things. They encouraged us to take to the air ourselves and public outrage at the excessive consumption of birdlife to decorate women’s hats with feathers led to the first conservation movement in the United States. The Audubon Society and the Migratory Bird Act are all interconnected with feathers.
If you love birds, have ever worn a feather in your hat band or wonder how human use of resources can impact the world, pick up a copy of Feathers. Hanson will reveal truths about these downy delicacies that you have never dreamed of and will inspire you to ask more questions yourself. This is one of my favorite books of the year.
Other Book Reviews:
Alex and Me
The Geese of Beaver Bog
Survival of the Sickest