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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 Paperback – October 8, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With 26 essays collected from 15 publications, New Yorker contributor Kolbert (Field Notes from a Catastrophe) has pulled together a magnificent display of writing. There's not a weak piece in the bunch. Kolbert's choices provide a sense of major themes in science today, with five pieces focused on evolution and seven on environmental topics. As Kolbert notes, Darwin's ideas seem ever more central to our culture, even as their implications continue to challenge us. As Benjamin Phelan shows, there's controversy even among biologists about some aspects of evolution, such as whether humans are still evolving today; Phelan presents the evidence that we are. John Broome discusses the ethics of climate change while Michael Specter is insightful on the difficulties of measuring one's carbon footprint; he concludes counterintuitively that, in many cases, it may make more environmental sense to purchase imported food than to buy locally. Other entries show what might have been prior to the Big Bang, the use of virtual reality games to quell post-traumatic stress disorder in Iraqi War veterans and much more. The collection is a joy to read and one to savor. (Oct. 8)
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Review

"[Elizabeth] Kolbert has pulled together a magnificent display of writing. There;s not a weak piece in the bunch...the collection is a joy to read and one to savor." - Publishers Weekly


"[Elizabeth] Kolbert has pulled together a magnificent display of writing. There;s not a weak piece in the bunch...the collection is a joy to read and one to savor."
(Publishers Weekly 2009-08-24)
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Product Details

  • Series: Best American (Book 2009)
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (October 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547002599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547002590
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,114,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on October 19, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The very best way to find out the truth about anything is by applying the methods of science - despite human failings in its application. I look forward to reading this collection of articles every year. With this brush stroke, I get a journalist's kaleidoscopic display of what different groups of scientists are doing with our world. This year's 26 selections, chosen by guest editor Elizabeth Kolbert, came from 16 different magazines - the best represented being Harper's, National Geographic, Discover, and New Yorker, all with three articles each.

*Wendell Berry - The exploding population and our use of earth's resources cannot last forever. Whichever way we turn, we run into the difficult politics of self-imposed limits.

*John Broome - The ethics of climate change is just as hard as the science. Most of the cost of controlling climate change must be borne in the near future, yet the benefit will come perhaps a century later.

One of my favorites: *Nicholas Carr - Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that reliance on the written word would detract from the knowledge base people used to have to carry in their heads....The arrival of Gutenberg's printing press (15th century) set off another round of teeth gnashing - the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness....When Nietzsche's vision problem forced him to use a typewriter, the new technology had an effect of his work. His prose became tighter; his arguments became aphorisms.....The clock's methodological ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific method. The conception of the world that now revolves around schedules solidified new pathways in our brains.....The internet is now subsuming most of our other basic technologies.
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Format: Paperback
There are many excellent reasons to buy and read The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2009, ranging from the pragmatic (keeping up with what's new) to the esthetic (science writing of rock-you-back-on-your-heels quality), but the best reason is twenty-six consecutive essays in which the book suddenly sags into your lap, your head tilts back a bit, your eyes focus on the far distance, and you can FEEL your cerebral tectonic plates shift and buckle. Are these essays really that good? Yes. Emphatically yes.

It is not uncommon for a scientific anthology to include topics that range from the largest scope (the multiverse) to the smallest (quantum physics), from studies of consciousness to new perspectives on psychology, from life in the deepest ocean to conjectures of life on other planets, and Best American Science and Nature is no exception to this model. What makes the book outstanding is that editor Elizabeth Kolbert's selections deeply and seductively integrate hard science with our daily human existence. Read Frederick Kaufman's Wasteland, and you'll never be able to think the same way about depressing the lever on your toilet. Ever thrown away a TV, a computer, a cell phone? Chris Carroll's wonderfully sketched portrayal of humans in developing nations sacrificing their health to extract light and heavy metals from the refuse, tossing the plastic carcasses of our castaway computers into a river, where they bob their way into the ocean, will leave a mark, if not a scar, on you. Feeling down and need to be boosted by having your socks charmed right off you? Read Mark Smith's Animalcules and Other Little Subjects.
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Format: Paperback
What makes this stellar collection so special isn't just the crisp writing and well-organized stories; it's also the angle of approach. From the year's best pieces, chosen by series editor Folger, New Yorker writer Kolbert has selected those which reflect current interests, but from slightly off the well-beaten path.

For Darwin's 200th birthday, for instance, Oliver Sacks' eloquent essay, explores the naturalist's lesser-known discoveries in botany and the thrill he got from this later work and his extensive collection of orchids.

The environment comes in for serious scrutiny, of course, and several pieces look at big-picture human impact on the planet. Frederick Kaufman's "Wasteland" follows sewage through New York City's state-of-the-art North River treatment plant - where counterfeit money and vials of cocaine are a lot more common than alligators - to its end product as "organic" fertilizer adulterated with heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and more. Kaufman explores the politics as well as the realities we'll sometime have to face.

And Chris Carroll follows our defunct computers and cell phones in "High Tech Trash," a horrifying story of capitalism at its worst.

J. Madeleine Nash's "Back to the Future" tags along with scientists examining fossils in Wyoming's Big Horn Basin, which 55 million years ago - after a massive carbon dioxide release - had a climate like today's Florida.

In "Big Foot," Michael Spector explores food choices from a carbon footprint standpoint - with some surprising results (locavores despair!).

A couple of pieces look at cutting-edge brain research.
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