The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human

Noah Strycker. Riverhead, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59448-635-7
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Strycker (Among Penguins), associate editor of Birding magazine, gets in his element, writing about his experiences watching penguins in Antarctica, putting out a deer carcass to assess the olfactory capabilities of turkey vultures, and monitoring the nests of purple-crowned fairy-wrens in the Australian outback. His work is a joy to read when he focuses on the interesting behavior of the birds with which he is obviously enamored, such as the astounding homing skills of pigeons, the uncanny talent of thousands of starlings to dart through the sky collectively without crashing into one another, or the ability of male bowerbirds to use sticks and brightly colored objects to assemble decorative structures that look like works of art. His prose is difficult to stop reading. However, when Strycker attempts to draw lessons, as his subtitle implies, about what it means to be human, he is far less successful. In discussing the evolution of music, ties between humans and birds are only loosely limned. Similarly, when he talks about evolutionary theory, from altruism to mating strategies, he presents little that is new or engaging. This will likely be a fascinating book for those captivated by birds but of only marginal interest to those looking for evolutionary insights into human behavior. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 11/25/2013
Release date: 03/20/2014
Compact Disc - 978-1-5159-1750-2
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-59463-341-6
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