THE BEAK OF THE FINCH

A STORY OF EVOLUTION IN OUR TIME

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)

Pub Date: May 15, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-40003-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1994

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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