- Hardcover: 332 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 3, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679400036
- ISBN-13: 978-0679400035
- Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 182 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time Hardcover – May 3, 1994
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On the Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin gave his first hint at his theory of natural selection, writing about the finches he studied there. In Darwin's time there was no proof of this theoretical mechanism for evolution. Indeed it would have been thought absurd to imagine observing it actually happen; the process was thought to take geological time spans. Weiner, an outstanding science journalist, details research done in the last 20 years that proves otherwise. Biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant have documented the evolution of Darwin's Galapagos finches, demonstrating that it is neither rare nor slow, but can be watched by the hour. Weiner's superb account reads like a thriller and won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
From Publishers Weekly
For more than 20 years Rosemary and Peter Grant have divided their time between Daphne Major in the Galapagos and Princeton University. On the tiny island they have intensively studied six species of Darwin's ground finches; at Princeton, they analyze their collected data. In following their work Weiner ( Planet Earth ) tells a remarkable story of continuing evolution, and of the painstaking research that reveals it. The Grants documented two dramatic changes in the finches: after a drought in 1977 reduced their numbers by 85%, the surviving birds became larger, in weight, wingspan and beak; after El Nino's floods in 1983, the trend was reversed. The Grants found that during food shortages the difference of one millimeter in the size of a finch's beak could determine its life or death. In his eloquent and richly informative report, Weiner surveys as well research on evolution being done on crossbills, sticklebacks and fruit flies. Illustrations. 40,000 first printing; BOMC, QPB , History Book Club and Natural Science Book Club alternates.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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In my mind this book goes together with a book I read some time ago and remember often, but can't quite name. Perhaps it's _Survival of the Sickest_ but I can't get that on Kindle to check my memory.
Anyhow - one for medicine and one more generally for the way we inhabit the planet and especially the way we grow our food - both of these books convincingly send up much conventional wisdom as mediated by powerful corporate structures with profit as a motive for understanding.
For neither of these books is that the authors' aim. This particular book has become a classic on evolutionary theory, mostly because of how throughly its author documents his comprehensive survey of the field. Dissonance with general understanding (of medicine or of evolution more generally to account for both books) falls out from that documentation.
This book continues to resonate because there remains hope by its end that it is because our human designs are so much deficient in the face of the greater forces of ever-evolving life on the planet, that those designs will be subsumed by something more alive.
The hint is that this will depend on our own continued evolution as well. That there is something beyond consciousness and cognitive power in store for the planet, and that we are locking ourselves away from it by our only temporary but terminal for the species as we are, dominance. Pride our downfall, but also our hope, as it promises to destroy our destruction.
Blessed be the meek who feel the strains of evolution more than the pride of arrival.
Anyhow, this book still makes a terrific refresher on the principles of evolutionary theory. I'd wanted a different book to document recent discoveries regarding the heritability of acquired characteristics. Some kind of folding of the DNA. I'll keep looking. Because I retain hope for the flowers.
This is a book for the scientifically-literate reader. An understanding of the scientific process is important to grasping the book. The degree of detail may be daunting. But considering those caveats, this book describes a truly beautiful chapter in the story of biology.
If biodiversity and evolution was ever taught in narrative and exposition, this would be on the syllabus, and it would be the class favorite.