From Publishers Weekly
Surgeon and New Yorker contributor Gawande (Complications) says the "coolest" science writing isn't necessarily found in the science press. His collection of the year's best includes only one research paper—an American Scientist treatise on yawning. And though Jack Hitt's essay (from Harper's), on racist subtexts in the archeological study of who the first Americans were, has footnotes, they tend to contain side jokes, not science. Most of Gawande's selections come from mainstream publications like the New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly, and especially from fellow New Yorker writers like Elizabeth Kolbert (on avian flu), Jonathan Weiner (on a rare neurological disease) and Richard Preston (on redwoods). Still, there are plenty of opportunities for writers at other publications to shine. D.T. Max's piece from the New York TimesMagazine presents a lively inquiry into "literary Darwinism," speculating on the evolutionary function of storytelling. And in the anthology's most moving essay (from Wired), Michael Chorost recounts his efforts to find hearing aid technology that will help him to hear Ravel's Boléro with the same clarity it held before he went deaf. The diversity and readability of Gawande's selections are very cool indeed. (Sept. 5)
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This installment of a popular annual has a new selection criterion: if editor Gawande decides a piece is "cool," it gets in. Meeting this exacting if subjective standard are topics such as time travel--definitely cool; maverick scientists--always cool; and weird science--totally cool, dude. Gawande, a surgeon by occupation and an essayist by avocation, is slightly more serious than that, but he does pick popular--science articles with some bounce. Drawn from periodicals such as the New Yorker, Harper's, and Discover, Gawande's 21 choices all possess other aspects of coolness, such as topical controversy (the "epidemic" of obesity), eccentric characters (computer-chess programmers), or interesting oddity (the "science" of yawning). Writer David Quammen (Monster of God, 2003) writes about the strange reasons people go in for cloning their pets and exemplifies the coolest thing about all these essays: the writing is both lively and humorous. A browser's delight, to be paired with Houghton Mifflin's rival annual, The Best American Science and Nature Writing. Gilbert Taylor
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