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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2000 (The Best American Series) 0th Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 004-6442082945
ISBN-10: 0618082948
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Editor David Quammen's approach with The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2000 is broad. So broad that he juxtaposes Mormon archaeology with wild African dogs, computer science with the origins of HIV. As a whole, the collection should be awkward, but it's not. Quammen's insistence that nature is bigger than we think, that science rests within culture, which rests within nature, allows each of these pieces to fit. The focus is on good writing, writing that might change your mind, or make you shout "YES!" or even make you angry. In narrowing the field, Quammen considered straight science reporting, book reviews and excerpts, and articles published in 1999.

One of the best pieces in the book is Natalie Angier's essay "Men, Women, Sex, and Darwin"--which became Woman: An Intimate Geography--a lucid and sharp challenge to the prevailing notions of evolutionary psychologists about what women want. Wendell Berry's "Back to the Land" praises the notion of an agrarian mindset, in contrast to the prevailing industrialism, and urges no less than a consumer revolt. Atul Gawande addresses the myth of the cancer cluster, Anne Fadiman recalls her reaction to a young boy's drowning, and Edward Hoagland imagines life in the third millennium in his elegant piece, "That Sense of Falling:"

Science is not sluggardly yet seems devoid of grief, because this would be a life without Mozart or other succulent choices at our fingertips, but oddly truncated, with so little sky and green and random sound or scent blowing in. We may need to grow not only hydroponic vitamins, but also oxygen, if the forests and oceanic vegetation are mauled beyond resuscitation: breathing units, to complement what may be denoted as affection units once the components of a child's emotional needs have been mapped precisely.

Millennialism drives several of the works, as a testament to our 1999 obsession with Y2K. Brief chronicles of the year's scientific revolutions are here, like Paul Ewald's work on microbiological evolution, as are more personal accounts, like Peter Matthiessen's pure naturalist prose and Oliver Sacks's "Brilliant Light," telling of his childhood obsession with chemistry. Browsers will find wonderful excerpts from the two major schools of science and nature writing that Quammen calls "Stay Home and Observe with a Gentle Heart" and "Go Forth and Observe with a Probing Mind." This collection is a very worthy addition to Houghton Mifflin's Best American series, and a science reader's dream come true. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

In the first volume of what will be an annual series, longtime science writer Quammen (The Song of the Dodo) assembles 20 cogent, informative and sometimes beautifully written essays, explanations and reports on (among other fields) AIDS, apes, archeologists and "Africa's wild dogs," all published in the last calendar year. Split about evenly between lab science and reports from wild places, the essays also vary greatly in length: some are substantial investigations, while others offer only a few lyrical pages. Natalie Angier (Woman: An Intimate Geography) leads off the book with a powerful salvo against evolutionary psychology, reprinted from the New York Times Magazine. Accomplished nature writer Ken Lamberton (Wilderness and Razor Wire) contributes a compact, well-observed piece about toads from an Arizona prison where he is an inmate. Anthropologist Craig Stanford shows how "ecotourism works" on a Ugandan reserve that succeeds in protecting its gorillas. Biology writer Judith Hooper (The Three-Pound Universe) describes the fascinating Amherst researchers who think that many human traits may come from infectious microorganisms. Part of Scribner's successful (and ever-lengthening) series of Best American titles, this entertaining and worthy volume directly competes withDand arrives one month later thanDEcco's equally polished Best American Science Writing, edited by James Gleick (Forecasts, July 3), which draws from many of the same sources (the New Yorker; the Sciences; the New York Review of Books). Not only do Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande appear in both volumes, but Sacks contributes the same piece (a memoir) to both. Readers most interested in DNA or particle physics may find Gleick's slightly more substantial. For readers devoted to animals and the environment, Quammen's volume will be the one to seek. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 26, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618082948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618082940
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,377,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you have only limited time but are curious about the fields of nature and science, this compilation is a must-have. A carefully-chosen wide range of articles by some of the most brilliant (not just the best-known) scientists and writers currently active. Computer science, HIV. archaeology and Y2K hysteria are all covered yet the book does not seem choppy or disconnected. Any of the short essays/articles can be read alone, for they are all worthy free-standing pieces, but the whole is greater than the sum of the individual items.
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By A Customer on November 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
There are some powerful essays in this book, which would make a great gift for anyone who likes good writing or who loves the natural world. The best natural history essay that I read this year was free because it was posted on Amazon. It was the sample chapter for Diana Muir's Bullough's Pond.
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Format: Paperback
Of all the annual `best of' anthologies, Houghton Mifflin's Best American Science and Nature Writing has to be the best. I know it has only been out a few years, but in every anthology, 90% of the essays are phenomenal. In the 2000 edition I thought only Wendell Berry's and Wendy Johnson's essays didn't belong (I'm not sure that you could qualify Johnson's piece as science or nature writing). Otherwise you have great pieces by Natalie Angier, Richard Conniff, Paul de Palma, Helen Epstein, Anne Fadiman, Atul Gawande, Brian Hayes, Edward Hoagland, Judith Hooper, Ken Lamberton, Peter Matthiessen, Cullen Murphy, Richard Preston, Oliver Sacks, Hampton Sides, Craig B. Stanford, and Gary Taubes (most of them I had never heard of). And they range over all aspects of science, nature, and technology. Great collection.
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Format: Paperback
It was an interesting choice to try and include the country's best science writing and its best nature writing in one volume. It, to me, was a mostly successful gambit; the writing in this anthology is top-notch.
Quality writing is one part of the story, though. Especially in science where content is king. How do the works here stack up? There are three main styles the entries take: literary journalism, persuasive advocacy, and reflective self-narrative.
Those pieces in the literary journalism category are by far my favorites. Helen Epstein's "Something Happened" is a penetrating look at the science behind the emergence of AIDS in Africa in the 1950s. Cullen Murphy takes us to the desert of Dubai in "Lulu, Queen of Camels", his fascinating vignette about British woman Lulu and the camel breeding-program she's begun. Richard Preston's "The Demon in the Freezer" post-"eradication" history of the smallpox virus is unquestionably the scariest thing I have ever read.
The persuasive advocacy pieces are sometimes ...failures, like Natalie Angier's "Men, Women, Sex, and Darwin" or Wendell Berry's "Back to the Land". Angier argues against evolutionary psychologists who claim that women are _biologically_ attracted to rich and influential men, but her piece is so long-winded and overblown the merits of her argument are easy to miss. Berry's piece is the kind of fact-free politicized "nature" writing whose prevalence is lamented by editor Quammen himself in his introduction.
The quality of the reflective self-narratives is high, if you like that sort of piece. In "Brilliant Light" Oliver Sacks offers a fond reminiscence of his boyhood love of chemistry, and in the process managed to stir my own sense of chemical wonder.
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Format: Paperback
Editor David Quammen writes that science on the one hand is getting bigger and nature "in the narrow, green sense," has apparently gotten smaller, marginalized. "The task of writers who care about one or both of these vast subjects is, among other things, to retain a relentless urge for connectedness and a rogue disregard for boundaries," he says. After all, as he points out in his introduction, "Science is a human activity."
However science and nature are viewed, the requirement for inclusion in this volume was singular: good writing. In that, the book is a success. Each of the book's 19 entries from top writers retains that connectedness in as many different ways. From Natalie Angier's "Men, Women, Sex and Darwin," to Richard Coniff's "African Wild Dogs," to Judith Hooper's "A New Germ Theory," (which explores evolution and infection), Quammen's observation that science is a subset of human culture remains evident and that science is "not so purely objective as it sometimes pretends."
Each of the entries is well worth reading. Atul Gawande's "Cancer Cluster Myth," expands one's thinking in light of preconceived notions. The final entry, Gary Taube's article on string theory lets the reader know that while physicists are on the trail of "a theory of everything," and that they feel they are on to something big, ultimately they are not sure exactly what.
All in all, the collection offers great writing on a wide array of interesting and current topics in science that will inspire readers to want more good writing about science and nature.
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