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The Beak of the Finch: Story of Evolution in Our Time Hardcover – 21 Jul 1994

5.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; First Edition edition (21 July 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224042300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224042307
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.4 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 607,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A book that reads as easily as a good novel, while adroitly conveying information" (John Gribbin Sunday Times)

"Jonathan Weiner's powerful and elegant book is a meditation on Darwinism, from its beginnings to our current planetary crisis... At its core is a study of the changes that are still happening to the 13 finch species that inhabit the Galapagos Islands. They are famous ( and fabled) birds, whose eccentric adaptations to the raw, unformed habitats of these young volcanoes gave Darwin one of the crucial clues in the development of his theory of "the Origin of the Species by means of Natural Selection"" (Richard Mabey Independent on Sunday)

"No other book has displayed so dramatically the tiny but momentous changes that are taking place all around us in the living world. Darwin would be cheering" (Derwent May Evening Standard)

"The subtle interweaving of historical fact, hard scientific detail and humorous anecdote makes this the kind of popular science writing to which many authors aspire but which so few achieve" (Economist) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

'Jonathan Weiner's powerful and elegant book is a meditation on Darwinism, from its beginnings to our current planetary crisis...At its core is a study of the changes that are still happening to the 13 finch species that inhabit the Galapagos Islands. They are famous (and fabled) birds, whose eccentric adaptations to the raw, unformed habitats of these young volcanoes gave Darwin one of the crucial clues in the development of his theory of "the Origin of the Species by means of Natural Selection"'
-Richard Mabey, Independent on Sunday

'No other book has displayed so dramatically the tiny but momentous changes that are taking place all around us in the living world. Darwin would be cheering'
-Derwent May, Evening Standard

'This is a work of huge fascination and importance...It has every chance of becoming a classic'
-Nigel Hawkes, The Times

'The subtle interweaving of historical fact, hard scientific detail and humorous anecdote makes this the kind of popular science writing to which many authors aspire but which so few achieve'
-Economist --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book, written for the lay-person, gives an excellent and absorbing account of evolution as an on-going process in today's world. It has been assumed that evolution is such a slow process that it cannot be observed occurring and that the process of evolution cannot be proved by active scientific observation of living animal populations. This book, based predominantly on the work of Peter and Rosemary Grant with Galapagos finches, disproves this and shows that evolution can occur at a rapid and actively observable rate. For anyone that doubts that evolution is a real process and very much a part of the natural world, this book is an absolute must-read! An excellent read by a prize-winning author.
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Format: Paperback
Any writer following in the footprints of Charles Darwin deserves a medal if only for contemplating such as task, one that pushes natural selection to the forefront of science and evolution. Jonathan Weiner's brilliant study of hundreds of birds that colonise a lava island in the Galapagos Islands -close to where Darwin began his Origin of the Species studies - is both educational and excellent. The Beak of the Finch, first published twenty years ago, comes in a new anniversary edition that narrows the gap between the l800s when Darwin set out on the Beagle, to today. Most of the donkey work it has to be said, was carried out by scientific assistants Peter and Rosemary Grant who spent much of two decades observing and photographing the finches and noting their evolutionary progress so that at one stage they knew by name 400 finches. They recorded how the birds used their beaks to cut off flower stems and eat the pollen, how they courted eliciting the feeling that females mated with the finch with the biggest beak, and then realised that the latest addition to the colony learned all essential moves by copying their parents The Grants made many hazardous trips to the island they called Daphne Major; No beaches and a dangerous journey by sea that involved jumping off when the tide was high enough and reaching a ledge that gave access to the island. Heroic stuff in which their daughters later took part, climbing with all their equipment . A backbreaking project that Weiner acknowledges in his splendid account covering two generations. A book that provides many answers - but not all yet - to how natural selection, despite its disbelievers, can provide evidence of the status of we humans.
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Format: Paperback
It sounds faintly ridiculous, but I couldn't put this book down. It's a compelling read, wonderfully informative and, well, brilliant.

Others have described it in some detail but if you have even a passing interest in the mechanisms of evolution then you'll want to read this book ...

Actually, everyone who has children or parents has a passing interest in evolution, so just read it!
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Format: Paperback
It's hard to imagine a more effective way to consign a book to the remainder bin: give it a drab off-white cover bearing sketches of birds' heads, an impossibly dull title that begs to be misfiled under 'birds' instead of 'science', and round it off with those untrimmed pages that are supposed to evoke the charm of nineteenth century book binding but which actually suggest poor quality control. On presentation alone this one ought to go extinct pretty quickly.

The Beak of The Finch is, however, an interesting book. It's about evolution and more specifically about the finer points of speciation. The central question - how can separate species form without geographical isolation - is explored through the recent history of Darwin's Finches in the Galapagos Islands. The book reports and analyses the work of Rosemary and Peter Grant, who have spent more than twenty years following the ebb and flow of finches on a single island. During this time they have individually tagged, weighed and measured almost 19,000 birds - the entire population of finches across fifty generations.

The Grants discovered that natural selection never sleeps and the boundaries between species of Darwin's finches are being relentlessly shoved this way and that by upheavals in the adaptive landscape. During their stay the Grants witnessed two major selection events and recorded the most complete set of measurements ever taken of evolution in action. From their measurements they have drawn new insights into the speed of evolution, which prompts the book's subtitle 'Evolution In Real Time' (perhaps this would have made for a better title!) The Grants have also drawn conclusions about specific mechanisms of natural selection, including the importance of hybridization as a source of diversity.
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Format: Paperback
Weiner has written a great book on evolutionary science. Instead of a frozen doctrine whose outlines are generally agreed upon as a quasi-religion, Weiner demonstrates how the modalities of evolution - how it actually occurs in nature - are still under investigation. It is a snapshot of an evolving science, carried out over a lifetime of research by two distinguished scientists.
One of the particular things they are attempting to observe directly is a speciation event - the creation of a new species of finch - which we long assumed must take place over geologic time and hence is unobservable. But in the process, Weiner reviews the notion of evolution, with fascinating tidbits from Darwin's original research and thoughts on these same finches of the Galopagos. It is a brilliant portrait of the cutting edge in science as well as a detailed review of many basic notions of evolution.

It is also a beautifully written book, indeed a masterpiece of elucidation. And it is all hard science, rather than the pseudo-scientific pap that passes for it in so many popular magazines today. While its rigor makes the book a challenge to read, it is well worth the effort.

Recommended, one of the best pieces of scientific journalism I ever read.
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