Time: The View from Darwin's Islands and Benzer's Bottles

Wednesday, 17 April 2002 - 5:30pm7:00pm

200 College Hall

Time: The View from Darwin's Islands and Benzer's Bottles

Jonathan Weiner

"If we look at the billowing smoke of a volcano from close up, we see intense and rapid motion, enormous and dangerous turbulence. If we look at the eruption from far, far away (a safe distance that puts it almost to the horizon), the smoke seems to hang in the air almost motionless: we have to watch a long while to see any change at all. The evolution of life turns out to be rather like the eruption of a volcano. The closer you look, the more turbulent and dangerous the action; the farther your remove, the more the living world seems fixed and stable, hardly moving at all"(from The Beak of the Finch).

For the last dozen years, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jonathan Weiner has observed biologists studying evolution in the Galapagos Archipelago and researching molecular structures in Fly Rooms. He has witnessed time shaping life on the largest and the smallest scale. Weiner takes us on a captivating journey of his temporal structuring, which he describes as "turbulent on all scales if we look closely enough."

An independent writer, Jonathan Weiner is "fascinated by biology." His latest book, Time, Love, Memory, won a National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction in 1999 and was chosen as one of the year's best books by Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal, one of the year's ten best books about science and nature by Amazon.com, and the year's top bestseller in biology by New Scientist. He won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his 1994 book The Beak of the Finch. Planet Earth, his first book, was the companion volume to the Emmy award-winning PBS series.

His books, translated into more than a dozen languages, have been supported by grants from NASA and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. His articles and essays have appeared in such publications as Time, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and the New York Times Magazine. The New Yorker's excerpt of Time, Love, Memory was reprinted in The Best American Science Writing 2000.

Weiner has taught at Princeton University, The Rockefeller University, and Arizona State. He writes, "I went to Harvard [as an undergraduate] planning to become a biologist. Instead, I spent my four years there trying to write poetry. Elizabeth Bishop once paid me the highest compliment that my student work deserved: "In every one of these poems," she told me, "there is one beautiful line." I was grateful, even though at the time I had no idea which lines she meant. After I graduated, I wrote an essay about one of my pet subjects in biology. Harvard Magazine published the essay, "Marching Along with the Social Amoeba," and I've been marching along with the social amoeba ever since. My aim is to follow science without marching away from poetry."


Event Synopsis

Suggested Reading

Time, Love, Memory: A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior, Knopf, New York, 1999.

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time, Knopf, New York, 1994.

The Next One Hundred Years: Shaping the Fate of Our Living Earth, Bantam, New York, 1990.

Planet Earth, Bantam, 1986.