by Thor Hanson

Basic Books, $25.99, 336 pages

Feathers by Thor Hanson is a fascinating natural history book which explores the evolution and cultural use of feathers. Hanson does not only try to explain how flight evolved, he also revels in the study of feathers which are unique to birds. The book, however, is not a research treatise or an explanation of a scientific breakthrough in this area. Hanson is a generalist biologist who has been all around the world to explore this natural phenomenon.

Feathers, however, is a well told piece of nature exploration which will keep you interested in the subject. Style, charm, and a breath of knowledge, will help propel you through a book which could have been dull, but excels in the telling. It would have been nice to learn more natural history, but the relatively short book also finds space for the chronicle of our relationship with our usual avian friends. There is also a large bibliography. Many experts have been consulted in a book that may not take a back seat to a sole treatment about the evolution of flight.

This book rides on the new interest in evolution gained from a reaffirmation of belief inspired by cell phones and hand held devices. If such things could send messages all the way to the other side of the globe then DNA should be able pass on the complicated information necessary to evolved miraculous features like feathers. It was not luck, as shown here, instead Natural Selection.

Reviewed by Ryder Miller