“The articles . . . draw the reader more tightly into the web of the world. They forge links in unexpected ways. They connect us to nature and to each other, and those connections nourish the intellect and uplift the spirit.”—Jerome Groopman, M.D., editor
This year’s Best American Science and Nature Writing offers another rich assortment of “fascinating science and impressive journalism” (New Scientist) culled from an array of periodicals, such as The New Yorker, Scientific American, and National Geographic. The twenty-four provocative and often visionary stories chosen by guest editor Jerome Groopman form an outstanding sampling of the very best in a field of writing that stays ahead of the curve, bringing important topics to the forefront of American discussion.
In “The Universe’s Invisible Hand,” Christopher Conselice takes us into the recent spectacular discovery of the crucial role of dark energy, which is making our universe expand faster and faster. Florence Williams tells the story of a more down-to-earth form of energy in “A Mighty Wind,” which describes how a small Danish island community is making great leaps in energy conservation by using innovative wind farms. John Cohen explores the marvelous world of ligers, zorses, wholphins, and other hybridized creatures in “Zonkeys Are Pretty Much My Favorite Animal.” And Robin Marantz Henig delves into the possibly hazardous ramifications of the rapidly expanding science of nanotechnology.
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008 packs a wallop of intriguing, informative, and wondrous stories, each one bringing with it, as Jerome Groopman writes, “a sense of excitement [to be] shared with others.”
About the Author
Jerome Groopman, M.D., holds the Dina and Raphael Recanati Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and is chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. A staff writer for The New Yorker, he is the author of How Doctors Think, The Anatomy of Hope, Second Opinions, The Measure of Our Days, and other books.
TIM FOLGER is a contributing editor at Discover and writes about science for several magazines. He lives in New Mexico.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read this collection over a period of time, between other books. This collection stresses evolution, biology, viruses, epidemiology, linguistics and archeology over astrophysics. There are strong pieces by David Quammen on viral zoonosis and Olivia Judson on the genetics of altruism. There is a forceful piece by Michael Finkel on malaria. Ian Parker's article "Swingers" casts a skeptical and humorous eye on what we know about bonobos, and how the bonobo has become a cultural icon for self-satisfied and romantic humans. At the heart of the collection, Edward Hoagland's "Children are Diamonds" tours the Africa of starvation, illness, war and international aid.
One of the better entries in this series, this collection of essays includes pieces dealing with linguistics, archeology, psychology, and the history of science, in addition to the harder sciences. I found these essays particularly stimulating: John Colapinto, 'the Interpreter', about an American linguist who has spent a career studying the Piraha language in the Amazon; Michael Finkel, 'Malaria: Stopping a Global Killer'; Edward Hoagland's searing 'Children Are Diamonds', excerpts from the author's stints as a medical volunteer in Africa; Walter Kirn, 'the Autumn of the Multi-taskers', a hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn rant against technology by a funny writer who I'd nonetheless ask to text me pictures of palm trees too (read the essay, you'll see); and David Quammen, 'Deadly Contact', about diseases that can cross boundaries between humans and animal species. But beyond specific essays, it seems to me that most of the pieces in this anthology have either a narrator or a subject who is unusual and engaging. As a result, reading the collection is like spending an evening at a lively cocktail party where all the small talk has been banished and the interesting guests are all telling great stories on themselves or each other.
A collection of recent publications that vary widely in quality, from some thought-provoking stunners to run-of-the-mill articles about primates. "Science and Nature" should be interpreted loosely here: among the writings about cosmology and biology, you'll also find entries that more comfortably categorize into geography, linguistics, sociology. In fact, it is some of these border stories in the "softer" sciences that provide some of the stand-out material in this compendium.Two of the stronger pieces are about linguistics: The baffling language (and culture) of the Pirahã tribe in the Amazon, communication via knotted tassels among the Incas. In contrast, the writings on biotech and nanotechnology seem like they're there because they're hot topics, not as much because the quality warrants inclusion.Overall the collection leaves me somewhat lukewarm: Is this really the best we can do?