Darwin’s Finches: Readings in the Evolution of a Scientific Paradigm

Kathleen Donohue

University of Chicago Press 2011

Two species come to mind when one thinks of the Galapagos Islands—the giant tortoises and Darwin’s fabled finches. While not as immediately captivating as the tortoises, these little brown songbirds and their beaks have become one of the most familiar and charismatic research systems in biology, providing generations of natural historians and scientists a lens through which to view the evolutionary process and its role in morphological differentiation.            

In Darwin’s Finches, Kathleen Donohue excerpts and collects the most illuminating and scientifically significant writings on the finches of the Galapagos to teach the fundamental principles of evolutionary theory and to provide a historical record of scientific debate. Beginning with fragments of Darwin’s Galapagos field notes and subsequent correspondence, and moving through the writings of such famed field biologists as David Lack and Peter and Rosemary Grant, the collection demonstrates how scientific processes have changed over time, how different branches of biology relate to one another, and how they all relate to evolution. As Donohue notes, practicing science today is like entering a conversation that has been in progress for a long, long time. Her book provides the history of that conversation and an invitation to join in. Students of both evolutionary biology and history of science will appreciate this compilation of historical and contemporary readings and will especially value Donohue’s enlightening commentary.