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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 16

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more