From Publishers Weekly
The latest addition to this uniformly excellent series, edited by renowned physicist Dyson, does not disappoint. Dyson showcases 28 essays covering astronomy and cosmology, neurology, nature writing, and three sections loosely organized on the environment. Some are more optimistic than others that environmental disaster might be averted. Many standout pieces describe the cutting edges of science, such as a strong piece by Kathleen McGowan in the neurology section on reprogramming memory and efforts to reduce the ruinous impact of PTSD. The nature section includes an essay by Don Stap on the kuaka, an astonishing bird that travels 7,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean in eight days without stopping or eating, and there is an arresting essay by Brian Boyd that ponders the evolutionary value of art and science, concluding that natural selection is evolution toward a purpose-driven life. Each of the authors--many familiar to readers of publications such as the New Yorker (from which Elizabeth Kolbert merits two entries) and the New York Review of Books--writes clearly, on occasion elegantly, and often with a contagious passion.
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Selected by famed physicist Dyson, the 28 articles in this popular annual represent what journalists have found interesting and important in the worlds of science and nature during the past year. While eclectic, Dyson’s choices are presented in six thematic parts, and his incisive introduction explains why they are worth reading. A rant by Tom Wolfe bemoans the directionless American space program, while an essay by physicist Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize laureate, argues that whatever launching people into space is good for, it’s not good for science. Science-writing up-and-comer Jonah Lehrer (How We Decide, 2009) takes an intriguing dip into research about self-control and delayed gratification in “Don’t.” Besides learning of the workings of the natural world, our yearning to admire it is satisfied with articles about the blue whale and amazing birds. A full three of the book’s parts consider environmental problems, such as the impact of noise on wildlife as examined by Dawn Stover, a veteran freelance science writer. A solid retrospective, good for wherever previous entries in the series performed well. --Gilbert Taylor