34 The Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner

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The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time, Jonathan Weiner, Vintage, 1994, ISBN 0-679-73337-X, $13.00, 332pp.

The first third of this book, describing the research of Peter and Rosemary Grant on the “Darwin’s Finches” on the island of Daphne Major, is well worthy of the Pulizer Prize that this book earned. The Grants, by cataloguing every finch (including beak measurements in three dimensions, as well as wing-span and weight) on the small island, were able to show the world that natural selection can indeed by seen in our lifetimes and proven scientifically through hypotheses and validation. It is a major achievement in evolutionary studies and deserves to be more widely known. Weiner continues his book beyond the Grant’s research, describing the work of evolutionary biologists who are attempting to make the next breakthrough as well– to show a new species being born, a true “origin” of species–is not quite as logical or well-presented, likely caused by the myriad different ways in which today’s scientists are attempting to make this discovery. In the end, Weiner pulls his theme together, and brings back how the Grants, their research assistants and many associates continue to build upon their earlier work with new techniques, and what they may be able to tell the world next.

This book had an additional bonus for us–half of the drawings included in the book were done by the youngest of the Grants’ two daughters, Thalia, who happened to be the wife of our tour group leader, Greg Estes, and was able to join us on our trip. A natural birder, and an expert on the Galapagos since she had been coming to the islands since she was five, Thalia and Greg are now working on several projects involving the Galapagos islands, their history and their fauna. Weiner’s book calls out for a sequel in a few years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Thalia’s name isn’t associated with it in some way.

[Finished April 1997]

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