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The Best American Science Writing 2005 Paperback – September 6, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The editor's claim that we are now living in the "golden age" of science writing is borne out in this superb anthology of pop-science essays and news reports. Progressing from the hardest to the softest fields, the eclectic selections include think pieces on the conceptual foundations of physics, updates on cutting-edge controversies in genetic engineering and stem-cell research, profiles of leading researchers, ecological meditations and debunkings of the latest scientific fads and frauds. Among the brightest in a stellar lineup are Frank Wilczek's exploration of the worldview embodied in Newtonian mechanics; Jim Holt's humorous look at cosmologists' varying scenarios for the end of the world; Philip Alcabes's critique of the current panic over bio-terrorism; and Mark Solms's account of the return of repressed Freudian theories of the mind in contemporary neuropsychology. The essays are well attuned to a general audience, but scientists will also find them full of intriguing information and interpretations. The result is a wonderful collection that expands the mind without overwhelming it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

One of the many pleasures found in this excellent annual is the introductory essay by each volume's guest editor. This year the acclaimed novelist, physicist, and essayist Alan Lightman offers a brisk and defining overview of what he prefers to call "public" science writing as opposed to "popular" science writing. He avers that we are experiencing a golden age in this invaluable genre, and, indeed, the range of subjects and the elegance of the writing found here substantiate his claim. Diane Ackerman writes of bumblebees, and K. C. Cole of life on Mars. The study of the human genome inspires riveting and unsettling essays by Natalie Angier, Robin Marantz Henig, Mark Dowie, and Gina Kolata. Catastrophic diseases and bioterrorism are the subjects of jolting essays by Philip Alcabes, Laurie Garrett, and Atul Gawande. Our jeopardized relationship with nature occupies Edward Hoagland, and Andrea Barrett writes insightfully about the different ways novelists and scientists navigate the "sea of information." What with "maggot therapy" and the "biology of hope," there is much here to stoke the imagination. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Best American Science Writing
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (September 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060726423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060726423
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,638,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on January 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Each year I am thrilled when this book comes out, along with its equally good competitor of the same format (Best of Science and Nature Writing, 2005). This year, my kids gave me one of each for Christmas. This book has 27 articles from 16 magazines. Without further ado, I will briefly summarize or provide a provocative quote from each essay for you. If at any time you feel inspired to quit reading this review in favor of the real thing, you will not be disappointed.

Introduction, by this year's editor, Alan Lightman, who made the final selections: "So far, not a shred of experimental evidence supports string theory. However, some of the best theoretical physicists in the world are infatuated with it."

Oliver Sacks: The story of how scientists have created new elements based on what could be predicted from the Periodic Chart of the Elements.

James Gleick: The grand new exhibition on Isaac Newton at the New York Public Library correctly portrays him as the genius of rationality and order that he was. His fingerprints mark every part of science, but they left out a major part of the story. Newton was heavily into alchemy and other pseudoscience, was a social disaster who had no friends, and was chronically poisoned by the mercury he experimented with. His works ended up being a pivotal event in the emergence of the age of science from centuries of dependence on superstition. His complex and tormented soul might represent the conflict between science and superstition.

Frank Wilczek: A discussion of Newton's second law of motion, F = ma. Force is "insubstantial" and has no independent meaning. For these reasons and that it has no algorith, Wilczek had problems with it as a student. He elaborates...a little over my head, but that's OK.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Larry Kelley on March 14, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a scientist. U of Michigan. I am 61

I make synthetic gem and laser crystals for a living. I read many scientific journals weekly. I think this series of "The Best American Science Writing" is extremely good with always very up to date topics. An absolutely great selection of articles written by or about top people and topics each year. I use this series to help keep me up to date on everything scientific. I highly recommend the entire series.
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Format: Paperback
Alan Lightman in this sixth anthology of ` The Best American Science Writing' ( Previous anthologies were edited by James Gleick, Timothy Ferris, Matt Ridley, Oliver Sacks, Dava Sobel) points to three different kinds of science writing." There is reportage, in which the writer "gets the story," interviews the experts, and largely stays out of the way. There is the essay, in which the writer goes inward rather than outward, casting himself or herself center stage and unashamedly inviting the reader to watch as the writer personally grapples with an idea. Yet, a third category might be called experimental narrative.Here, the writer the writer may be trying to capture a scene or a moment of life, as in fiction wwriting, without full explanation or understanding, or may be constructing a fantasy that demonstrates important principles of science." Lightman then goes on to say that the `best writing is clear, captivating, intelligent, provocative, imaginat6ive, graceful and funny when the humor is natural'. His concluding observation is a remark of Henry James indicating that the one essential quality of good writing is that it be interesting.

There are twenty- six essays in the anthology.

Oliver Sachs in his essay `Greetings from the Island of Stability' writes of the discovery of two new elements, and in doing so considers the work of Glenn T. Seaborg and his colleagues at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the making of new elements beyond element ninety- two. In the course of this Sachs reawakens his own childhood interest in chemistry.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Angie Boyter VINE VOICE on March 21, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I look forward every year to the annual edition of this series and its competitor, Best American Science and Nature Writing. Since there are way too many good magazines published I gave up long ago trying to keep up with them, and this book/series serves two useful functions. First, it provides a delightful sampler of science-related writing of the past year, and, second, it often introduces me to some new writers as well as familiar names. It is the kind of book that has repercussions: I have never failed to follow up by buying additional books, either books by the authors represented or books referred to in the selections (WARNING: This book could be dangerous to your budget!)

The series editor provides a certain stability and may ensure some breadth to the selections, but each volume bears the stam of the interests of the guest editor. Given Alan Lightman's literary bent, it was therefore not surprising to see someone like Diane Ackerman included.

This was probably not the best of the series, but it nonetheless was not one I would want to miss.
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