Nautilus

The Last Word with Jonathan Weiner

Jonathan Weiner is one of our favorite science writers. He animates topics like evolution and genetics with personal stories about pioneer scientists that read like adventures you don’t want to end. You can go to the Galapagos Islands to marvel at blue-footed boobies, but if you want to appreciate the importance of the islands in the history of science, you can’t go without reading The Beak of the Finch, Weiner’s 1994, Pulitzer Prize-winning book about biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant. It tells the story of evolution in microcosm, through a bright cinematic focus on Darwin’s finches.

You can’t beat Weiner’s characterizations of his protagonists, such as Seymour Benzer, the maverick subject of his 1999 book, Time, Love, Memory. In the 1960s, “Benzer wanted to work from the gene to the neuron to the brain to behavior, and he hoped to dissect them all the way he had dissected the gene. While he thought and read, he asked [his wife] Dotty to buy brains at the butcher’s shop: sheep, cow, goat, pig, and chicken brains. One by one she brought them home, and one

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