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The Best American Science Writing 2009 Paperback – September 15, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist and bestselling author Natalie Angier, The Best American Science Writing 2009 collects into one volume the premier science writing of the year. Distinguished by new and impressive voices as well as some of the foremost names in science writing—Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande among them—this anthology provides a comprehensive overview of where science has taken us—and where it is headed.

About the Author

Natalie Angier is a bestselling author and a Pulitzer Prize-winning science columnist for the New York Times. She is the author of four books: Natural Obsessions; The Beauty of the Beastly; Woman: An Intimate Geography; and, most recently, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, with her husband, Rick Weiss, a science reporter for the Washington Post, and her daughter.



Jesse Cohen is a writer and freelance editor. He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Series: Best American Science Writing
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 2009 ed. edition (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061431664
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061431661
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,177,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on October 31, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Natalie Angier is the guest editor this year for "Best American Science Writing 2009." In her words, "whatever the slumps and surges of the economy, whatever the upheavals and subductions in the media, science marches on. " For those who want to keep up with advances in science, reading this book is not a bad place to start. Algier has chosen 24 articles as her favorites, taken from 17 different magazines - the best represented magazines being The New Yorker and New York Times Magazine with 5 each.

Those of us who love science get to double down because there are two yearly books - this excellent publication and "Best of Science and Nature Writing 2009." Three articles were chosen by both guest editors this year:

"The Itch" by Atul Gawande from "The New Yorker:" Only 20% of the images we perceive come from the retina. The remaining 80% come from other parts of the brain controlling things like memory. In other words, what we see is a virtual reality - as given to us by our brains. Our sensations of pain, itch, nausea, and fatigue are usually protective but sometimes go awry. Millions of people have chronic pain of all sorts, phantom limb syndrome, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, tinnitus, pathological itching, or fibromyalgia - in which treatments of surgery and medication are notoriously marginal. Mirror image therapy has helped phantom limb pain. Perhaps this whole group of patients can benefit from mirror image or other virtual reality therapies - to treat problems made worse by glitches in our neurocircuitry.

"Back to the Future" by J. Madeline Nash from "High Country News:" A big red band snakes through the rocks in Wyoming for 25 miles.
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Another entry in the "Best American Science Writing" series. Agree with the previous reviewer that some articles (e.g. Dennis Overbye's piece on cosmology, Jennifer Margulis' piece on Giraffes) are a bit on the fluffy and speculative side. Still a good collection and great reading if you need to relax after a busy day at work.
There is some overlap with stories that also appear in "Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009" and in "Best American Medical Writing 2009".
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I don't know Natalie Angier's background, but I'm willing to guess that her degree is not in the sciences. I'm guessing she's leaning toward the humanities and spends a fair amount of time watching daytime tv. This collection is not about science, it's about the social issues of the day--which may parenthetically have a science element to them.

"The First Ache" is about abortion. "The Truth About Autism" is about public perception of autistics. "Blocking the Transmission of Violence" is about the hot-button issue of inner-city crime. "War! What's It Good For? Absolutely Nothing!" is not just about war (counter-culture versus military industrial complex) but about female monkeys who wage war (gender reversal--ooh, how exciting).

A very disappointing collection of science pieces. The focus was very obviously on issues that might find their way onto daytime tv's "The View." The appreciation of science for science's sake is irritatingly thin.

I don't think the pieces here were chosen because of their ability to stimulate the curiosity or expand knowledge.
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There are some very interesting articles in this collection, but overall the collection is mediocre at best. Angier was clearly aiming for an audience without a very good science background, and she takes a pretty broad view of what constitutes science writing: e.g., Tisdale's article on her fears of even benign dental procedures because of bad childhood experiences. Actually, Gawande (first author) has a much better article than Tisdale's on the same general subject in one of his books; he cites the aversion to chemotherapy that patients can develop, so that symptoms begin on the way to the doctor.

I especially enjoyed the article on Alex the parrot and his owner. There is a really good book out on the impressive cognitive ability of ravens: Bernd Heinrich, "Mind of the Raven". For medical writing, either of Atul Gawande's first two book have many great articles that are still relevant.
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I picked up the 2009 Best American Science Writing after reading the 2002. While the 2002 was a hefty book printed on good paper, the 2009 is slightly larger than a trade paperback and printed on cheap paper. Also, while the 2002 had an article by Gary Taubes that consituted a real anti-consensus opinion and was based on a lot of investigative research, the 2009 has nothing of the sort and includes some rather puff pieces, including a humor piece from The Onion. And a couple of the articles are arguably misplaced in a natural sciences collection. This isn't to say there is nothing of interest. An article on doctors that diagnose torture from wound scars addressed a topic I hadn't given consideration to before, while an article on the threat of an asteroid strike addresses a topic most people laugh at that would probably be a much better use of NASA resources. An article on "contagious cancer" about transmittable tumors in Tasmanian devils covers ground that was addressed years ago on Quirks and Quarks and in other places. Two articles by Registered Nurses covered medical topics from a subjective, non-science perspective and were ultimately disappointing. This is the biggest draw-back to the entire Best American Science Writing series. The articles selected are too journalistic and not enough hard science. There is a middle ground between peer review and pop magazines, and a book made of such middle ground articles would be much more interesting and educational to read, although much harder to compile and edit, I suspect. Likely, I won't continue to read this series in the future, although the book was a quick read and, since these are mostly magazine articles, as easy to read waiting in line as a magazine.
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