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The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time Paperback – May 30, 1995
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Rosemary and Peter Grant and those assisting them have spend twenty years on Daphne Major, an island in the Galapagos studying natural selection. They recognize each individual bird on the island, when there are four hundred at the time of the author's visit, or when there are over a thousand. They have observed about twenty generations of finches -- continuously.
Jonathan Weiner follows these scientists as they watch Darwin's finches and come up with a new understanding of life itself.
From Publishers Weekly
Weiner follows scientists Peter and Rosemary Grant who, for the past 20 years, have studied the continuing evolution of the beaks of finches in the Galapagos Islands.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
We're introduced to a populationg that is perfect for evolutionary studies--a limited number of species in a closed ecosystem on an isolated island. Darwin couldn't have known what his observations would lead to so many years later, but Weiner shares with us the Grants meticulous study of over 20 generations of finches. Thousands of individual birds were measured, and their progeny tracked. Through this book, we see what they saw--evolution in action.
Weiner weaves facts into a nice story. The book is engaging and reads like a novel, so much so that my 13 year-old daughter is now reading it.
The conclusions (and no, this isn't a spoiler) are that evolution by natural selection occurs and that selection can occur quickly (it's not always a slow process). Weiner (and the Grants) also touches on speciation in fish populations, and bacterial and viral evolution.
This was required reading in an introductory evolution class in college. I hope, someday, students in high school will be assigned this book. It was excellent, and will probably be wrapped up as Christmas gifts for a few of my friends and family.
One of the particular things they are attempting to observe directly is a speciation event - the creation of a new species of finch - which we long assumed must take place over geologic time and hence is unobservable. But in the process, Weiner reviews the notion of evolution, with fascinating tidbits from Darwin's original research and thoughts on these same finches of the Galopagos. It is a brilliant portrait of the cutting edge in science as well as a detailed review of many basic notions of evolution.
It is also a beautifully written book, indeed a masterpiece of elucidation. And it is all hard science, rather than the pseudo-scientific pap that passes for it in so many popular magazines today. While its rigor makes the book a challenge to read, it is well worth the effort.
Recommended, one of the best pieces of scientific journalism I ever read.