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The Best American Science Writing 2006 Paperback – September 5, 2006

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The Best American Science Writing 2006 + Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End + Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
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Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Best American Science Writing
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 2006 edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006072644X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060726447
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,554,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
All the "Best American..." books are good because they are collections of the best writing, usually magazine writing, done in the year indicated. The series titles include Best American Science Writing, Best American Science and Nature Writing, Best American Essays, Best American Sports Writing, Best American Short Stories, even Best American Sex Writing. The essay choices are up to the person--always an illustrious figure, an expert--who edits each volume. For the year 2006 we have Dr. Atul Gawande, a famous surgeon and author of Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science (2002). Previous editors of the "Best...Science..." series have been James Gleick (2000), Timothy Ferris (2001), Matt Ridley (2002), Oliver Sacks (2003), Dava Sobel (2004), and Alan Lightman (2005).

I have read all or part of the entire series beginning in 2000, and while every collection has been interesting, even fascinating, this year's collection is particularly good. I say this because Gawande, in keeping close to his area of expertise, has chosen articles mainly in the fields of biology, medicine, computers and information theory, and evolution, and these happen to be fields that especially interest me. The emphasis in this volume then is on the so-called "soft" sciences rather than the "hard" ones, although not exclusively so. Moreover, Gawande has managed to find essays that are especially well-written. I was a bit dazzled at the wordsmithing ability of some of the writers to say nothing about the fascinating and informative content of their essays. In particular I want to point to Alan Weisman's "Earth Without People"; D. T.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on October 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book contains 21 essays about a broad range of scientific topics. Many of the essays appeared in The New Yorker or The New York Times which gives you a hint of their flavor: well and professionally written for an intelligent but non-scientific audience.

The most interesting essay in this book, in my opinion, was "Climbing the Redwoods" which opened up a new window on the world to me: treetop ecology. The essay "Obesity: an Overblown Epidemic" should be comforting to the growing group of less svelte among us. "Yawning," well written, told me more than I wanted to know about the subject, and caused me to yawn. Articles on cloning, time travel, disease, hearing restoration, autism, God, and gays are easy to read -- and in fact a few are superficial.

Most of the good scientific writing I encounter is accompanied by graphs, charts, photos and other visual aids to comprehension. This book has none of that, a boon if you like good writing, less desirable if your thirst for comprehension goes a bit deeper. This is a good book to read on a long airplane flight. It's small, light-weight, and light- hearted.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on October 16, 2006
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This collection of exceptional articles comes out annually in the fall, as does its competitor, "Best Science and Nature Writing, 2006." I eagerly anticipate the publication of them both. Guest editor Atul Gawande made the final selection of 21 essays from 10 different periodicals and one book. "The New Yorker" had the most selections with six. Three essays were picked for both books.

H. Allen Orr - An unusually non-polemic critique of intelligent design. Orr's analyzes the arguments of ID's two main advocates - Behe and Dempsky. Both of them have grudgingly admitted that once the cell was in existence, evolution by random mutation and natural selection could have done the rest.

Richard Preston - The author joins Steve Sillett (botany professor and advanced tree climber) in exploring redwood canopies 300-375 feet above ground. To accomplish entry, they shoot an arrow from a powerful hunting bow over a low branch, perhaps 200 feet up. A fishing line is tied to the arrow, and is used to pull the 600 foot climbing rope back over that branch. That's the easy part.

Frans B. M. de Waal - The author always enjoyed being tuned to his environment, watching people in action - especially their body language. During thousands of hours as a graduate student in the 70's, de Waal watched chimps, and found that Machiavelli was a better guide than his texts. Chimpanzee politics was like human politics - a matter of individual strategies clashing to see who came out ahead - of course the chimps were much more transparent. The author began to see people around him in a different light.

Tom Mueller - Computers have triumphed at chess not by aping human thought, as most artificial intelligence experts had expected, but by playing like machines.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nicole on December 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
I get Best American books every year at this time, and I really look forward to them. My favorite is Non-Required Reading, but I would have to say Science Writing is usually a close second. In past volumes I had to skip over certain articles, specifically those within the field of physics. This was the first time I read them all. In fact, I even re-read one that I first saw earlier this year in The New Yorker. I thought that a good way to show my appreciation for this collection would be to share some of the best quotations:

"H.L. Mencken once said that for every complex problem there is a simple solution - and it's wrong." This comes from Gibbs' "Obesity." It isn't actually Gibbs' idea, but it's well-placed and I have used it many times in the past few weeks.

"The rational public-health approach would be to vaccinate those who would first be exposed [to avian flu] - heal-care workers and people in the region where an epidemic has struck. That is unlikely to happen." This is from Specter's "Nature's Bioterrorist," and it illustrates how power-hungry egotists will cause most of the human race to die needlessly in the future. (Possibly.)

"The genotype may be identical in a clone, but it gets expressed differently." This is from Quammen's "Clone Your Troubles Away." I like it because I think it's hilarious to think of people spending millions on a spare pet or child and getting an entirely unexpected being.

Mann's "The Coming Death Shortage" inspired me to write science-fiction stories. It interests me to think of a world in which "the 'becalmed temperament' of old people" is at war with "the legions of youth - 'the protagonists...of protest, instability, reform, and revolution.
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