Review: Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle, by Thor Hanson


Hanson is what I think of as a great science writer.  He engages our imaginations while imparting facts, and I suspect that is at least in part because he has such a lively sense of wonder that he can’t help but infuse even the most prosaic of information with a feel of awe as if the evolution of feathers or seeds, or whatever else he’s writing about is pure magic. And in a sense, the things he writes about are magic, or as close to as we get in our world.

The discovery of feathered dinosaurs, the evolution of feathers as tools for flight, insulation, and even courtship, are all topics which Hanson covers here, framing them with his own experiences of his backyard chickens, his travels to museums and to meet with bird researchers, his field experiences (one of which made him smell like rotting zebra guts for days.)  He writes cleanly and engagingly on all these topics making the information wholly accessible.

The only flaw I found in this audiobook was the narrator.  In general his narration is workmanlike, no more, sometimes a bit flat and expressionless, but it serves the purpose.  However, when he tries to render voices, it’s at best distracting, as when he lightens his voice for quotes from women, and at worst almost embarrassing as when he renders the speech of a Chinese researcher.  It’s not so much that he does a terrible job at either, but that he does it at all.  It feels out of place.  I don’t know if these were his choices, or if he was asked to do the voices.  Either way, I think it was a mistake.

But don’t let that put you off listening if that’s the way you’d prefer to read this particular book.  It’s worth it no matter how you approach it.  So far, everything Hanson has written is worth your time, in my opinion.


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