*** The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time talks about the work that Peter and Rosemary Grant have been doing for twenty years in the Galapagos islands, studying the so-called Darwin finches. (Let’s just say that Darwin did a poor job of studying them, including neglecting to properly tag the origin of the ones he shot! They should be called the Grant finches.)

I thought that the book would focus on the studies they conducted, and the ascetic life on Daphne Major, which is a caldera with steep walls, no shade, and no permanent source of water, and I was initially disappointed that the author instead chose to use the scientists’ stories as interludes in a more ambitious discussion of evolution, but the approach is an educational success. Not only can we follow the living proof of Darwin’s theories, but also appreciate how quickly evolution can work, in a single very rainy or very dry season for example, and how very tiny differences (a single millimeter of a bird’s beak) can separate survivors from the others — showing the importance of proper analytical techniques.

It’s a little scary to think of the consequences on pesticide or antibiotic use, but think we must, and the author helps with that, too. Perhaps the best book about evolution I have read.

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