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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2010 Paperback – October 5, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The latest addition to this uniformly excellent series, edited by renowned physicist Dyson, does not disappoint. Dyson showcases 28 essays covering astronomy and cosmology, neurology, nature writing, and three sections loosely organized on the environment. Some are more optimistic than others that environmental disaster might be averted. Many standout pieces describe the cutting edges of science, such as a strong piece by Kathleen McGowan in the neurology section on reprogramming memory and efforts to reduce the ruinous impact of PTSD. The nature section includes an essay by Don Stap on the kuaka, an astonishing bird that travels 7,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean in eight days without stopping or eating, and there is an arresting essay by Brian Boyd that ponders the evolutionary value of art and science, concluding that natural selection is evolution toward a purpose-driven life. Each of the authors--many familiar to readers of publications such as the New Yorker (from which Elizabeth Kolbert merits two entries) and the New York Review of Books--writes clearly, on occasion elegantly, and often with a contagious passion.
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From Booklist

Selected by famed physicist Dyson, the 28 articles in this popular annual represent what journalists have found interesting and important in the worlds of science and nature during the past year. While eclectic, Dyson’s choices are presented in six thematic parts, and his incisive introduction explains why they are worth reading. A rant by Tom Wolfe bemoans the directionless American space program, while an essay by physicist Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize laureate, argues that whatever launching people into space is good for, it’s not good for science. Science-writing up-and-comer Jonah Lehrer (How We Decide, 2009) takes an intriguing dip into research about self-control and delayed gratification in “Don’t.” Besides learning of the workings of the natural world, our yearning to admire it is satisfied with articles about the blue whale and amazing birds. A full three of the book’s parts consider environmental problems, such as the impact of noise on wildlife as examined by Dawn Stover, a veteran freelance science writer. A solid retrospective, good for wherever previous entries in the series performed well. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Series: Best American (Book 2010)
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 2010 ed. edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780547327846
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547327846
  • ASIN: 0547327846
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tracy Hodson VINE VOICE on November 4, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This collection of "the best" science and nature writing of 2010 (collecting articles published in 2009), is certainly not just for scientists. In fact, scientists may find it frustrating, given that it's really comprised of articles that are geared towards the general public, most of which appeared originally in "general interest" publications: eight of the twenty-eight articles were first published in The New Yorker, seven in National Geographic, leaving thirteen which appeared in a variety of other periodicals such as GQ and The New York Review of Books. Not one of the articles chosen came from Scientific American or Science. There isn't a single article on Public Health or Mathematics, and the only Biology/Medical Science covered at all is Neurology, and all three articles in this section focus on behavioral issues (memory alteration, self-control, neurosis). The collection is more remarkable for what is missing than for what is included.

The articles are, of course, well-written and interesting, and favor "nature" writing over "science" writing, with three sections dedicated to the environment. One such section, "Natural Beauty," gives fifty pages to the singing of the Earth's praises for its stunning diversity and, well, natural beauty. These essays cover the status of Minnesota's goshawk, a "raptor of gentility," as it struggles in the face of logging interests in Gustave Axelson's "The Alpha Accipiter," and the elegantly written celebration of the New Zealand godwit, "Flight of the Kuaka," by Don Stap, as well as a brief piece by famed naturalist Jane Goodall on the mysterious survival of a phasmid thought to be extinct.
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This book was predictably good. It should be - after all, it contains a select group (26) out of the 122 articles that passed the scrutiny of the series editor. I look forward to this book every year as well as its competitor "Best American Science Writing 2010." This year the Introduction by Freeman Dyson is perhaps the best in all the years I've been reading this series. He explains why this series and the other are getting fluffier (my word), then says that science journalism in general is getting "briefer, sparser, and more superficial." He conveniently puts the table of contents into broad categories: Cosmology, Neurology replacing Molecular Biology, Natural Beauty, and three categories about the Environment. Then in describing the content in broad strokes and mentioning a few specific articles, he proceeds to write a summary essay with his own opinions about his chosen articles - creating a stand-alone essay of his own. However, his choices ARE light on hard science and for that I considered subtracting a point - upon further thought I did not - but I refuse to believe Dyson could not have found more scientific selections. The first three articles I review were found in both volumes - all three among my own favorites, as I have 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.
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Let someone else sift wheat from chaff and you garnish the benefits. What's fun about this book is that from many articles, the best are compiled for easy access. In this case, 28 are selected from 122 options. Years of research can be boiled down to a single stunning realization. What is well known in narrow fields of study are revealed here for the rest of us. And it's those little morsels we carry around, compared with what we know and/or informing us with possible explanations of things we discover along the way. Timothy Ferris (who can't seem - even once - to write a bad essay) reports about "Seeking New Earths" and the "red edge produced when chlorophyll-containing photosynthetic plants reflect red light" on distant worlds. Such a long range fingerprint would be one of the greatest discoveries in the record of our species. Kathleen McGowan tells how flimsy our memories are, because each time we access them, we also destabilize them, tweaking the memory each time. (Though memories of, say scientific theories or data, seem immutable, perhaps because nature is always there for correction.) With this in mind it answers the question how some people truly can believe the lies they tell. Over time and repetition they've reordered the synapses, such that the film they play in their head really is the lie they built. (All of us out there in failed relationships can relate to that, and remember this as a warning.) We learn about the record setting, 8-day, 200-hour, non-stop airborne flight of the bar-tailed godwit, whose population (as with other migratory birds) is collapsing because humans are draining their estuaries as coastal "improvements" round the globe.Read more ›
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