Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 1995
Rosemary and Peter Grant and those assisting them have spent 20 years on Daphne Major, an island in the Galapagos, studying natural selection. They recognize each individual bird on the island, when there are 400 at the time of the author's visit or when there are over a thousand. They have observed about 20 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.
©1995 Jonathan Weiner (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"There are lots of memorable lines, and telling, even funny anecdotes (don't miss the one about the barnacle that bit) that make this Weiner a winner." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Evocative writing, exhaustive research, and Weiner's memorable portrait of the engaging Grants assure The Beak of the Finch membership in the select pantheon of science books that spark not just the intellect, but the imagination." (Washington Post Book World)
"Narrator Victor Bevine's English accents include Australian, American, and British, with seamless switches to Ecuadorian Spanish. He senses just the right pace for his well-pronounced deluge of scientific words and arguments. His enthusiasm for what the finch studies demonstrated heralds the Grants' momentous contribution to our knowledge of biology today." (AudioFile)
A complicated sapiens. Mainly auditory, with a kinaesthetic touch; curious and resourceful. Reasonable, most of the time.
Spoiler alert: when times are tough evolution diversifies and during times are abundance evolution unifies and uses that luxury to create intelligence. Either way, the stories of proof of evolution from Darwin to modern day expierimentalists and tireless observers is enchantingly shared with us in a clear and poetic way. Worth the journey!
"Fascinating in-depth look at evolution in action"
A wonderful science/biology book that combines depth (the Galapagos finch study by Rosemary and Peter Grant) and breadth (impressive overview of Darwin's discoveries, and work by his scientific followers). Accessible to a non-biologist like me, while at the same time introducing many new concepts and insights from field studies. At times, the book seems to be written in a thriller style, with cliffhangers and plot turns that make you look forward to the next time you can spend time with this excellent book. Highly recommended.
"More than birds here."
At the end when the thoughts are being conclusive- It is so insightful that I will think about this book for the rest of my life. It affects my everyday living and I NEVER expected that from this book. I thought it was just going to be an interesting book about Darwin's finches and the people who have studied them.
Not really. There is just too much information and I need to process it in more than one sitting.
Sometimes there are a few too many details and measurements, but overall this is a really good book. Maybe great, well it would be great with a few less bird details.
I like bird stuff but what was the most amazing was side stories on other animals like the white and black moths in England etc. Wow!
Our planet is wonderful and after reading this my commitment to taking good care of it is even stronger.
You can never see the world the same again if you read this. We live on a beautiful planet and this book really gives a clear view of just how wonderful it is, thanks to the hard work of a lot of very patient people.
"One of my favorite books that I've listened to"
This was an extremely interesting book. I listened to it twice. If you want to really understand how evolution works, how the environment molds and shape species then this is the book to get. If you doubt evolution is real...listen to this book. It's probably the best case study of evolution in motion.
"Excellent Info, sometimes a bit too much"
The book was excellent and really detailed, which was good to a point. I don't know what I would have cut as an editor because it was an insightful examination of the Finches and other examples of speciation, but I found that at the halfway point I found myself thinking "really only I am only half way through the book? I could teach a course on this from the information that I have been given so far. What more could they possibly have to say?" Then the author would give me more great information that backed what he was saying.
Really an insightful and information packed read that gives the Real world life of scientists actively doing science and teh results that they are coming up with. Just a bit too long.
"This book clearly deserves all its awards"
Evolution made material, without anthropology. Did you know that the illegal ivory trade is causing elephants to be born with shorter or non-existent tusks. Well written and fascinating for the evolution buff. A must read!
yes. the knowledge and science were very enlightening. the observation of evolution in real time is very fascinating.
"Why Evolution is True" by Jerry Coyne
his voice was as captivating as the subject matter.
amazed that this information gathering was possible in less than a person's lifetime and the additional proof of evolution.
"A good overview of evolution"
Just to be clear: I never read the print version. I am taking an evolution course at my university and the professor "suggested" this book. The beginning is very slow; the first maybe four chapters. But then it gets interesting and then...even more interesting. This book covers evolution as it is visible and measurable as well as the theories of Darwin and the like. I enjoyed the reading by Victor Bevine, but I cannot say whether this has added to the book or not, being that there were no "characters" to be portrayed and no real "story" to be told.
"Powerful narrative; fascinating subject"
For people who don't have a strong science background, but do believe in evolution and natural selection - the next time some fan of Fox News tells you with great confidence that "Darwin's Theory of Evolution was just a theory. It hasn't been proven," you can whip this book out of your backpack and beat them with it.
Completely accessible, written with a strong narrative arc that keeps you turning pages, Weiner has created a compelling work of popular science. He summarizes, in layman's terms, some of the great field research projects that usually scientists only talk about to each other. Projects where natural selection, sexual selection and hybridization have been observed to change species within the span of human observation. That's right, folks, proof after proof of evolution in various ways - theory no longer.
Weiner then goes on to relate these proofs to other touchstones in our lives - drug-resistant viruses, catastrophic weather events.
This is a darn good read as well as being a sensible antidote to the anti-science wave of foolishness sweeping the U.S.
If you want to understand the modern science of evolution (it's not a theory anymore), and some of the fascinating work that has been done to elucidate its mechanisms, this is the book for you. It is thorough, varied, and fascinating.
"Remarkably tedious account of the obvious."
A cripplingly tedious account of cripplingly tedious field work that tends to confirm things that you thought were totally obvious. For most people with a high school education, natural selection, at the level depicted in the book, is pure common sense. Environmental pressures favor the survival/fecundity of those certain phenotypes that then tend to displace others. Sexual preference, adaptive behaviors, and cross-breeding affect this in several ways and, if the pressures are extreme, the changes can come fast. The selective process can move in many directions and can recede altogether with the arrival and departure of such pressures. You can write the whole substance of it on the back of an index card. However, the book invites you experience every trial and tribulation of the marooned Galapagian finches and of the pathetic scientists who waste their lives watching and measuring them. Predictable things happen in predictable ways. You are along for the ride. You could have read something else, but the reviews were so good you convince yourself that the book just HAS to get better soon. There are efforts made to spice up the narrative--the scientists heroically tell droll jokes in the face of unimaginable boredom, the finches are induced to enjoy inter-species necrophiliatic intercourse with decapitated bird cadavers—but no indulgence in humor or kinky sexcapades can make the finches very interesting.
The book gradually runs natural selection down and pounds it relentlessly into the guano-encrusted tuff of Daphne Major. However, mere natural selection does not alone give you "evolution." The book only dabbles in the critical issue of speciation. It always refers to phenotypically distinct finch groups that tend not to interbreed as "species," but, amazingly, the book never attempts a formal definition of "species" and does little more than offer conversations amongst the forlorn scientists that the finch varieties indeed really just have to be separate species despite noisome interbreeding and whatnot. This could have been the interesting part—the critical part—where durable evolutionary divergence happens. Leave it to the finches to start interbreeding and melting back toward a single type.
The book actually comes alive when it ditches the finches in favor of something (anything) else. Sadly, this happens in the final quarter, when you are also told of other things you already knew from high school and a few thing you might not have known (a real treat) and this happens at an intelligent pace (another treat). Then, to tie up the book, the author indulges in some big picture/philosophical treatments that are too repetitive and uneven to be very satisfying.
Don't get me wrong, the book is very "well-written" in a mechanical sense. Truly artful biblical references and adroit and soothing language serve to dull the reader's suffering as the pages slowly go by. Even so, I have never hated the experience of a non-fiction work as much as this. I feel stupid for having finished it. I now hate "Darwin’s finches" and their vicissitudinous, environmentally selected beaks. What a waste of my time. I find myself hoping they soon go extinct and that the circumstances and causes of their extinction pass unobserved and unknowable.
So, why do people like this tome?
(1) Some readers may be surprised to discover what natural selection is, having neither any education nor imagination that would have previously acquainted them with the idea.
(2) The book strives to support the theory of evolution, which many people reject for irrational or unscientific reasons. Many readers need to be associated with the smart crowd who like evolution and "liking" this book reaffirms their participation in that smart group and further assures them they are totally unlike the other group, who instead intensely dislike the book for analogous reasons.
(3) They are, or are related to, one of the scientists whose tragic sacrifice on the altar of pointless empiricism is depicted in this heart-wrenching monument to wasted lives.
--Recommended for scientifically inclined boys of middling intellect, aged 12 to 16 years.
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