THE BEAK OF THE FINCH by Jonathan Weiner


A Story of Evolution in our Time
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 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 15th, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-40003-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1994


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