the most perfect thing


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‘I think that, if required on pain of death to name instantly the most perfect thing in the universe, I should risk my fate on a bird’s egg’
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1862

The Most Perfect Thing is the winner of the Zoological Society of London’s Communicating Zoology Award for 2016, ‘awarded for a communication of a zoological nature that has an outstanding impact on a general audience’. The award, known as Clarivate Analytics Award for Communicating Zoology, was made at the Zoological Society of London’s meeting in June 2017.

The Most Perfect Thing will also form the basis for ‘Attenborough’s Eggs’, a one-hour television programme to be aired on the BBC in 2018.

How are eggs of different shapes made, and why are they the shape they are? When does the shell of an egg harden? Why do some eggs contain two yolks? How are the colours and patterns of an eggshell created, and why do they vary? And which end of an egg is laid first – the blunt end or the pointy end?

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(L-R) guillemot egg; recently laid zebra finch; unhatched; falcon egg; yolk rings

These are just some of the questions The Most Perfect Thing answers, as the journey of a bird’s egg from creation and fertilisation to its eventual hatching is examined, with current scientific knowledge placed within an historical context. Beginning with an examination of the stunning eggs of the guillemot, each of which is so variable in pattern and colour that no two are ever the same, acclaimed ornithologist Tim Birkhead then looks at the eggs of hens, cuckoos and many other birds, revealing weird and wonderful facts about these miracles of nature. Woven around and supporting these facts are extraordinary stories of the individuals who from as far back as Ancient Egypt have been fixated on the study and collection of eggs, not always to the benefit of their conservation.

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Firmly grounded in science and enriched by a wealth of observation drawn from a lifetime spent studying birds, The Most Perfect Thing is an illuminating and engaging exploration of the science behind eggs and the history of man’s obsession with them