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The Best American Science Writing 2010 2010 ed. Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0061852510
ISBN-10: 0061852511
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This yearly best-of shares three articles with The Best American Science and Nature Writing: 2010 but saliently differs by including medical articles. Editor Groopman picked good ones about strange things, such as Larissa MacFarquhar’s New Yorker look at people who donate their kidneys to strangers, Benedict Carey’s New York Times report about the comeback of the lobotomy (euphemized as the “cingulotomy”), and Steve Silberman’s Wired piece about the effectiveness of placebos. For such news-you-can-use, the hardcore periodical Science is not normally renowned, yet Groopman has extracted one for anyone who’s committed a social gaffe, “How to Think, Say, or Do Precisely the Worst Thing for Any Occasion.” Newsworthy topics represented herein include a profile of the late green-revolution agronomist Norman Borlaug, a Wired riposte to the irrational antivaccine movement, and psychologist Steven Pinker’s essay about personal DNA testing. Alas, a serpent lies coiled in science’s garden, as a Nation alarm about the drastic reduction of the media’s science coverage discloses. Help allay that decline by expanding the audience for Groopman’s 22 sharp-minded contributors. --Gilbert Taylor

From the Back Cover

Edited by New York Times bestselling author Jerome Groopman, The Best American Science Writing 2010 collects in one volume the most crucial, thought-provoking, and engaging science writing of the year. Distinguished by new and impressive voices as well as some of the foremost names in science writing—David Dobbs, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Larissa MacFarquhar among them—this eleventh edition features outstanding journalism from a wide variety of publications, providing a comprehensive overview of the year’s most compelling, relevant, and exciting developments in the world of science. Provocative and engaging, The Best American Science Writing 2010 reveals just how far science has brought us—and where it is headed next.


Product Details

  • Series: Best American Science Writing
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 2010 ed. edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061852511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061852510
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #895,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This book was predictably good. It should be - after all, it contains a select group (22) out of the many articles that had already passed the scrutiny of the series editor (that group sent to the annual guest editor used to be about a hundred). This year it is heavy on evolutionary sciences (good), on general issues (reasonable), and on psychological sciences (some not so impressive). I look forward to this book every year as well as its competitor, "Best Science and Nature Writing." The first three articles were found in both volumes - all three among my own favorites, as I marked by asterisks:

* "The Missions of Astronomy" by Steven Weinberg - Weinberg is a Nobel Prize winner and particle physics expert (currently at UT Austin) who decided he was not current in the history of science - so he decided to teach a course in it. This article looks to be adapted from one of his lectures. He starts out explaining how the ancients used the gnomon - similar to but not the same as a sundial. A gnomon is a vertical pole on a flat, level patch of ground open to the sun's rays. Daily charting of its shadow by Greeks led to "a discovery around 430 BC that was to trouble astronomers for two thousand years: the four seasons, whose beginnings and endings are precisely marked by the solstices and equinoxes, have slightly different lengths. This ruled out the possibility that the sun travels around the earth (or the earth travels around the sun) with constant velocity in a circle." It was not until the 17th century that Kepler explained that the earth's orbit is not a circle but an ellipse. A scientific reading of "Odyssey" reveals that Homer could accurately navigate by reading the stars and Weinberg explains how he did it.
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Format: Paperback
This annual selection is generally a good bet. Series editor Jesse Cohen minimized his risk this year by prevailing on Jerome Groopman to serve as guest editor. Dr Groopman's own science writing will be familiar to readers of the New Yorker; he is also author of several best-selling books. For me, seeing his name on the cover of this anthology was an immediate guarantee of quality - I'm pleased to say that the collection lived up to my expectations.

In his excellent introduction Dr Groopman introduces the metaphor that the book might be thought of as a "symphony of science". It's not a particularly fortuitous choice of metaphor(one suspects it may have been forced on him by the series editor), but he struggles gamely with it to the bitter end. I prefer his introduction to a previous, similar, anthology in which he laid out his criteria for choosing what to include:

"the articles ... have novel and surprising arguments, protagonists who articulate their themes in clear, cogent voices, and vivid cinema. They are not verbose or tangential. They are filled with simple declarative sentences. ... I suspect none of the articles was easy to write. Each shows a depth of thought and reporting that takes time and considerable effort."

These are admirable criteria, indicating an editor who keeps the reader's welfare firmly in mind. And, with very few exceptions, the articles in the 2010 anthology satisfy them, so that the collection is accessible, thought-provoking and fun to read. I came away with the impression of a slight bias in favor of biomedical research; but this was only weakly confirmed upon closer inspection of the distribution of articles across categories.
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Format: Paperback
As a student, I've always been a big fan of scientific topics, though many of the things one learns in school do not quench the appetite for learning. Thankfully, books such as this one exist to allow for an extension of one's own knowledge about science without being too costly or too secular and specific. For us laymen, this book presents scientific topics that are relevant and advanced in terms that are extremely easy to understand, yet still scholarly. Some topics I didn't know existed, such as the science behind saying the wrong thing at the wrong time - other's I had heard about but never really learned about extensively, such as the placebo effect. This book does well in taking subjects one might have learned about in school and placing them in real world scenarios, expressing how they affect me, you, and the world around us.
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As other reviewers have noted, the majority of selections in this anthology were fascinating reads, and I commend the editor for his choices overall. A particular favorite for me is Julia Scott's piece on "colony collapse disorder" and Elizabeth Kolbert's "The Sixth Extinction." As with most selections, these two were very well written and presented a fair and balanced look at the topic. One potentially divisive article, M. Specter's "A Life of its Own" about synthetic biology, was extremely well presented from both sides of the issue, leaving the reader well informed even if the topic itself tends to generate serious and heated debate among the general populace.

But I take issue with the editor's inclusion of an extremely controversial article on autism near the end of the book, A. Wallace's piece "An Epidemic of Fear," which is essentially a lay writer's interview of a scientist who is perhaps the nation's most vocal proponent of vaccines. Nowhere in this article was the opposite viewpoint explored or offered, and some misinformation was included. (The author said that there are no studies in existence refuting the pro-vaccine studies - simply untrue - you have to look outside the U.S. to find another voice, but the author should have known to do the looking before making such a volatile statement). I found the inclusion of this article a bit puzzling considering the quality of the rest of the book.

As a science junkie, I look forward to these anthologies each year. With this one noted exception, I highly recommend the 2010 edition.
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