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on September 24, 2009
The story of Rosemary and Peter Grant's twenty-year study of the finches of the Galapagos islands goes far beyond ornithology and even beyond biology: the author contends that the Grants have successfully observed the birds evolving under stressful conditions to become better adapted to their environment. That claim may be disputed, but the book is a great adventure story of science under brutal conditions--the most barren of islands, so rugged that just landing on it is potentially fatal. The description of how the study was conceived and carried out is woven into the Grants' own personal story and the whole is placed into the context of the history of evolutionary theory, told in an intelligent and entertaining style. The book ends with some comparisons of other similar attempts to observe evolution, and the arguments are compelling that the Grants have succeeded in doing so.

While fascinating and well-written, I must admit that there were parts that were a bit dry and you really have to love this subject to get all the way through the book. Probably the best part is Weiner's explanation for why the finches' beaks are so crucial to their survival: their primary food source is a tiny, rock-hard seed. There is also a very funny passage on how the Grants discovered what male finches find sexually attractive.

A pleasant and engrossing read for the serious or semi-serious naturalist. Recommended for those who enjoyed Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World.
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on November 22, 2016
I read this while on a cruise in the Galapagos, which made it more interesting to me than if I had been somewhere else. The story of the Grants' research on the "Darwin finches" is fascinating, but I thought the narrative did not maintain as coherent a story line as in the best popular science writing. I thought the reflections on larger issues (e.g. science vs. religious dogma, the causes and effects of climate change, and the rapid evolution of bacteria and viruses in reaction to modern medicines) at the end of the book were well done and among the best sections.
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on July 22, 2013
Biologists maintain that evolution is both a theory and a fact, but the meaning of this comment is difficult for the general public to understand. Meanwhile the anti-evolutinists maintain that evolutionary changes cannot be observed. This book reviews the work of the Professors Grant which details the simplest and most important fact of evolution---that species show variation from generation to generation. This fact is the bedrock on which our theory of the origin of species rests. Mr. Weiner takes us through in great detail, accompanied by original citations, the Grants' work in which variation within species progresses in real time, from year to year and generation to generation.
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.
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on January 8, 2015
What a fantastic book. Weiner is an amazing writer and this book shifts from biography, to novel, to historical nonfiction smoothly while capturing the mindset of Darwin by placing him along contemporary biologists. I'm not a biologist and have never had a formal introduction to evolution, but I feel this book has certainly prepped me for that!
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on September 10, 2015
The book covers specific topics in evolutionary sciences at great depth - which makes this a compelling perspective. This is a story of change happening around us with far reaching consequence.
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on February 14, 2017
Rather dull, but better than most of my assigned textbooks
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on April 22, 2013
Recommended reading for a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands, this enjoyable book brings Darwin into the modern world. Clearly documenting in rich detail the rapid and pervasive change occurring in many natural systems, my one criticism is the lack of a more complete discussion and definition of species. The traditional view of species, the lack of fertile offspring in cross species breeding, was not directly confronted in the context of recent research. Has the definition changed? Is our knowledge incomplete? A reminder that as with all theories of complex systems, Darwin as well as Newton and Einstein will always stimulate more questions as knowledge advances.
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on March 7, 2017
I have always understood evolution on a simple level, but this book helped me appreciate it in a new light, helped me see the ever-changing nature of our whole world (and probably our universe). It has also made me look anew at humanity, its various settings and conditions, and, as a result, the many likely subspecies
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on December 10, 2014
You probably have to be a science buff or enthusiast to get through this book. If you are, then I think you will find this an illuminating, fascinating read. It is the story of perhaps one of the most important studies in field biology, almost unmatched for its length, detail, and what is has revealed about the nature of life and evolution. It is also profoundly moving in some passages, and very funny in others.
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on July 28, 2017
This is a wonderful book. For me it elevated a study of a small corner of biological science to the larger questions of who we are, where did we come from. Loved it.
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