Feathers are a multipurpose marvel. Birds, the only modern-day creatures to sport plumage, use feathers for flight, insulation and courtship displays. As it turns out, so do people: Feathers help arrows fly true, trap body heat inside parkas and adorn everything from attention-grabbing hats to the glitzy costumes of Las Vegas showgirls. Hanson, a conservation biologist, presents feathers in a sweeping natural and cultural history, bringing them to life not just as a practical item but as a source of inspiration throughout history.
Basic Books, 2011, 336 p, $25.99.