Taking Flight by Lev Parikian [9/10]

2022/2023 seems to be a period of outstanding science-in-nature writing and “Taking Flight: The Evolutionary Story of Life on the Wing,” by classical conductor and nature writer Lev Parikian, is a stellar example. A writer possessed of a breezy, humorous style that somehow manages to retain heft, Parikian is always entertaining, but in this book he rolls up his sleeves and pursues an exploration of the magical phenomenon of flight. I can report that his analytical skills are as strong as his writing chops. Moving forward from the oldest life species to take flight, such as dragonflies, bees, and butterflies, Parikian gives the best coverage of flying dinosaurs (the pterosaurs) and bird precursors (the famed Archaeopteryx) that I have ever read. He then covers birds from non-flying penguins through waterbirds such as geese and the magical hummingbirds, before winding up with pigeons (yes, pigeons, fascinating!) and bats. All the technical explorations of different forms of flight are ballasted by a huge reference list yet come across as precise but chatty pub lectures. Taking Flight is disarmingly, brilliantly educational, a high-flying triumph.

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