The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time

Front Cover
Vintage Books, 1994 - Nature - 332 pages
2 Reviews
The Beak of the Finch tells the story of two Princeton University scientists - evolutionary biologists - engaged in an extraordinary investigation. They are watching, and recording, evolution as it is occurring - now - among the very species of Galapagos finches that inspired Darwin's early musings on the origin of species. They are studying the evolutionary process not through the cryptic medium of fossils but in real time, in the wild, in the flesh. The finches that Darwin took from Galapagos at the time of his voyage on the Beagle led to his first veiled hints about his revolutionary theory. But Darwin himself never saw evolution as Peter and Rosemary Grant have been seeing it - in the act of happening. For more than twenty years they have been monitoring generation after generation of finches on the island of Daphne Major - measuring, weighing, observing, tracking, analyzing on computers their struggle for existence. We see the Grants at work on the island among the thousands of living, nesting, hatching, growing birds whose world and lives are the Grants' primary laboratory. We explore the special circumstances that make the Galapagos archipelago a paradise for evolutionary research: an isolated population of birds that cannot easily fly away and mate with other populations, islands that are the tips of young volcanoes and thus still rapidly evolving as does the life that they support, a food supply changing radically in response to radical variations of climate - so that in a brief span of time the Grants can see the beak of the finch adapt. And we watch the Grants' team observe evolution at a level that was totally inaccessible to Darwin: the molecular level, as the DNA in theblood samples taken from the birds reveals evolutionary change. Here, brilliantly and lucidly recounted - with important implications for our own day, when man's alterations of the environment are speeding the rate of evolutionary changes - is a scientific enterprise in the grand m

What people are saying - Write a review

The American people; the findings of the 1970 census

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

This is an account of Peter and Rosemary Grant's research on the microevolutionary modifications that occur in finch beaks as they adapt to environmental changes. Analysis of data collected from 18 ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

I was 'forced' to read a Science book for my upcoming Bio/Chem class to write an essay on. I chose this book (which was luckily on the list) because I'd heard good things about it. And I'll say, it delivered! The book was incredibly interesting, although it occasionally veered off track by talking about other species and examples of natural selection (it helped me understand better, but it was the main part of the book where I was bored). While I probably would have never read this book without a push from this summer assignment, I think it is a wonderful book and much worth the read! 

Other editions - View all

About the author (1994)

Jonathan Weiner is one of the most distinguished popular-science writers in the country: his books have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, Time, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Scientific American, Smithsonian, and many other newspapers and magazines, and he is a former editor at The Sciences. He is the author of The Beak of the Finch; Time, Love, Memory; Long for This World; His Brother's Keeper; The Next One Hundred Years; and Planet Earth. He lives in New York, where he teaches science writing at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Bibliographic information