Books by Jonathan Weiner

NON-FICTION
Released: July 1, 2010

"Immensely readable and informative."
Pulitzer Prize winner Weiner (Science Writing/Columbia Univ.; His Brother's Keeper: A Story from the Edge of Medicine, 2004, etc.) offers a gripping account of the science of aging. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: May 1, 1999

It's a biography of a scientist, a summary of 20th-century genetics, and a fly's-eye (i.e., multifaceted) view of trends and controversies in biology—all told by an expert science writer with one Pulitizer Prize already to his credit (The Beak of the Finch, 1994). Seymour Benzer is the fly man par excellence and a dream subject for profiling. Curious and restless, he made his mark in physics and phage genetics (phage are viruses that infect bacteria) before turning to the fruit fly and launching a second wave of fly genetics that not only sparked a revolution in developmental biology but now has turned to the study of behavior. Yes, flies behave. They have courtship songs; they have circadian rhythms; they can learn and remember. Indeed, time, love, and memory (and thus learning) have become associated with specific fly genes. And these genes have counterparts in mammals, including humans. Benzer et al. are saying that behavior as well as the housekeeping rules that govern cellular metabolism get encoded in living organisms as products of evolutionary adaptation. It's not that there is a gene for this or that, but rather complex sets of interacting genes affected by environment. But some, like Richard Lewontin and Jonathan Beckwith, will have none of that, categorically denying the relevance of fly genetics to human behavior. Weiner gives them a fair hearing, as well as E.O. Wilson and others on either side of the nature-nurture fence. Fair play aside, the momentum of the new studies could play out in the 21st century with the rich opting for "favored" genes for their offspring, Weiner says, a phenomenon that could eventually split the species. There is thus plenty of food for thought in the volume. But Weiner's great gift lies in explaining the science with you-are-there descriptions of lab life and personalities; reporting what scientists say and what they do. He provides telling anecdotes that reveal the humor, quirks, frustration, anger, and rewards of being a scientist. (Book-of-the-Month Club dual main selection) Read full book review >
NADIA'S HANDS by Karen English
Released: Feb. 1, 1999

Nadia, a Pakistani-American girl, has been chosen to be the flower girl for Auntie Laila's traditional wedding. Nadia will wear shalwar, or silky trousers, with a matching kameez on top. She'll have her hair curled, and she'll walk down the aisle, strewing flower petals left and right. Before the wedding, however, she'll have her hands decorated with the mehndi, a dark red henna paste swirled into intricate designs, flowers, and stars. Everyone assumes that Nadia is thrilled, but she's worried about Monday, when she'll have to go to school with the indelible designs still on her hands. How the strength of time-honored traditions and the warmth and love of a large extended family transform Nadia's feelings about her hands make an affecting—though somewhat abruptly resolved'story. Weiner's pastel illustrations amplify the text; he shows Nadia's ambivalence in her face and posture, and conveys both her pleasure at her important role in the wedding, and her reluctance to be different at school. When she comes to terms with those fears, her smile is radiant. (glossary) (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: May 15, 1994

An unusual and enjoyable look at the ongoing process of evolution. Think finch. Think Gal†pagos. Darwin's finches. All those clever birds adapted to fill niches that might normally be filled by other birds. Each with beak adapted to be long and pointy or stout and deep: whatever it takes to tackle the food of choice. It all happened when the first finch or two blew into the volcano islands millennia ago, right? Wrong. What Weiner (Planet Earth, 1986) sets out to do, and does very well, is demonstrate that evolution happens fast and now. That point is not new to those in the know: Remember those 19th-century English moths that adapted to soot-covered bark by turning from predominantly white to predominantly black in a few moth generations? Weiner's tale focuses on Peter and Rosemary Grant, who have spent 20 years documenting every finch on Daphne Major island and coding data on life history to be plugged into computers back home in Princeton. The story is fascinating: In hard times the species exploit their separate niches: ground feeders of varied-sized seeds, cactus feeders, etc. In soft times they intermingle, even hybridize. Thus the pendulum swings from species fission to species fusion. Now after a few flood seasons, the hybrids are doing very well...but times change. And that is the point—dynamic and constant change. As Weiner winds up his story, he moves on to thee and me: with the bacteria in our guts, with antibiotic and pesticide resistance, global warming and the greenhouse effect—all the manmade changes that are ratcheting up the evolutionary gears. All this is artfully told, with maps and drawings, some by a Grant daughter. 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. (First printing of 40,000; Book-of-the-Month Club selection; Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection; History Book Club selection) Read full book review >