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The Best American Science & Nature Writing 2005 (Best American) Paperback – October 5, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Best-of collections are like boxes of chocolates: they're ideally consumed in sittings, and the mystery of what's next adds to the enjoyment. So it is with this volume. Under the editorial guidance of Pulitzer-winning science writer Weiner (The Beak of the Finch), it tips several sacred cows, including a handful from the field of mental health. Malcolm Gladwell has two pieces, one on the insufficiencies of personality tests, another on what he argues is a thoroughly modern preoccupation with post-trauma stress. Frederick Crews's scorn isn't quite concealed as he tackles the shaky scientific evidence for Rorschach blots, while Natalie Angier's brief essayon the incompatibilities—establishment denials notwithstanding—of religious faith and science will please atheists and irk deists. William Speed Weed's amusing day-in-the-life shows the extent to which Americans are deluged with largely bogus scientific assertions—and how we unthinkingly wolf them down (again, like bonbons). The need to think critically may be the price of admission to human consciousness: capping the anthology is an article on the brain wiring that gives rise to moral impulses. "Chimps may be smart," a neuroscientist says, noting that some primates seem to have moral reactions in the absence of reason. "But they don't read Kant." (Oct. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Launched at the start of the century, this annual showcase of top-notch writing about diverse scientific and nature-related subjects is proving to be an invaluable gathering of not only lively reports on science but also incisive analyses of the politics of science. From its inception, science has come into conflict with fundamentalist religion, but it is shocking to see how pitched this increasingly high-stakes battle is in the here and now. Just when we urgently need clarifying public discourse about everything from pharmaceuticals to global warming, bioethics, and computers, topics broached in these pages with knowledge and finesse, American society is slipping back into a miasma of ignorance as those in power reject rock-solid scientific understandings, not to mention rationality and common sense. By way of fighting back, this year's inspired guest editor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Weiner, has selected 25 superb essays, including such clarion responses to the current attack on science as Natalie Angier's "My God Problem--and Theirs" and James McManus' searing inquiry into the debate over stem-cell research. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 2005 ed. edition (October 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618273433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618273430
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,063,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on January 27, 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 American Science Writing - 2005). This Christmas, my kids gave me one of each, this one having 25 essays coming from 12 different 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, Jonathon Weiner, who made the final selections: "Science writing is usually seen as a world apart even though its subjects surround us, fascinate us, and terrify us, even though at their best all of the arts and sciences share the same subject, which is the way things are."

Natalie Angier: Scientists are a far less religious group than are average Americans, yet only a flaskful of the nonbelievers amongst them have publicly criticized religion. The author reveals the number one thing scientists wish people understood: "Would you please tell the public...that evolution is for real...that the evidence for it is overwhelming, and that an appreciation of evolution serves as the bedrock of our understanding of all life on this planet."

Connie Bruck: Story of the politics and campaign to pass Proposition 71 in California, funding stem cell research. "One thing I know about biomedical science - once you're onto something, once you get the best and brightest funded to work on it, things move very, very fast."

Frederick Crews: Since the Rorschach's invention as an offshoot of psychoanalysis in 1921, it has survived near abandonment several times, only to be rescued by a new charismatic leader.
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I'm writing this review in July 2008, about an anthology of magazine articles published in 2004 - I probably would have given it 4.5 or 5 stars when it first came out, but 4 years on makes a difference. Many of the pieces - as chosen by guest editor Jonathan Weiner (The Beak of the Finch) - are about current events, in particular Bush (anti) science policies which have since played out in new directions. As a Guest Editor, there is a pull between choosing pieces with lasting value, and those that are flashy period pieces soon forgotten. Weiner seemed to focus on pieces with an ideological bent, or more accurately, pieces that attacked ideologies, either way politics of 2004 was a central theme.

My favorite articles include: Jared Diamond, "Twilight at Easter", a classic re-telling of the Easter Island parable of planet earth. I read this same account in his long book Collapse but I think in this shorter form it is more powerful and concise. Malcolm Gladwell's "Getting Over It" suggests that most of us get over traumatic experiences fairly well and don't need to dwell on it. Reinforcing this is Jerome Groopman's "The Grief Industry" which shoots giant holes in the whole PTSD theory and the industry it has spawned. Sherwin Nuland's "The Man or the Moment?" is a historiography piece about approaches to history, in particular the social historian who looks at the "zeitgeist" as the main driver, and the "great man" historians who focus on individual actions.
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Format: Paperback
This collection of essays shifts from the usual scattered melange of topics in this series. Weiner has opted to focus rather more closely on selected areas. In this volume health and medicine gained much of the ink. Given the sources and market, the decision has merit. Certainly the issues discussed are worthy of close attention. The narrower topic approach hasn't allowed any slipshod writer to sneak in. All the articles command your attention - and are worthy of it. Well-written, informative and current, the selection is a treasure of quality.

Weiner opens the collection recalling his childhood fascination with atoms. He actually thought he saw some in a moment of dizziness. This "insight" leads him to note how physics and biology are gently merging through the growing field of molecular biology. Understanding genes means understanding molecular activities. More importantly, there are medical implications that we are only now beginning to understand. At the very root of our existence, organic molecules exist as both contributers and threats to life. Robert Kunzig's essay on deep sea sediments and other holdings of microscopic life show these places are also storehouses for methane. Once likely the dominant gas in our atmosphere, global warming may release floods of it again, compounding the "greenhouse effect". In a step up on the molecular complexity ladder, Sherwin Nuland discusses innovative "enhancement" technologies to improve appearance and prolong life. Various hormone "therapies" are already in use with more to come. Jenny Everett's essay on prompting children's growth using manufactured growth hormone struck a nerve with this reviewer. My son endured the daily injection programme for many years.
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