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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2002 (2002)

by Natalie Angier (Editor), Tim Folger (Series Editor)

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2002 saw another solid edition of BASNW, edited by Natalie Angier, who brought a more distinctly female oriented perspective in her selections. There are a total of 27 essays, 12 of which I found outstanding, with the remainder well worth reading as well.

In "Violent Pride" (Scientific American), Roy Baumeister skillfully re-examines the prevailing myth that violent offenders are that way because of low self-esteem - instead they are the exact opposite with hyper-inflated egos. Burkhard Bilger in "Braised Shank of Free-Range Possum" (Outside) takes on a familiar topic - eating odd wild meats like possum and raccoon - but does so with a wit and style that sets it above the norm. Funny, educational. In "Welcome to Cancerland" (Harper's Magazine), Barbara Ehrenreich writes about her experiences as a breast cancer survivor, and the politics behind it. This powerful essay touches on many interesting topics: the gender politics of the breast cancer movement, the social pressures to conform to devastating chemo therapy treatments (applicable to all health care).

In H. Bruce Franklin's "The Most Important Fish in the Sea" (Discover) we learn that the menhaden - a small oily fish not eaten by humans - stands close to collapse due to overfishing for animal feed protein, bringing down with it entire ecosystems like a key domino. In Malcolm Gladwell's "Examined Life" (The New Yorker) he tells the story of Stanley Kaplan, the man who beat the SAT tests by training students how to master it - and along the way reveals that IQ is partly genetic, but largely hard work, a product of study and practice. Blaine Harden's "The Dirt in the New Machine" (New York Times Magazine) is an interesting look at the Congo and its natural resource a metal called "coltan" used in electronics. Just as oil-rich countries become hotbeds of war, the electronics industry through its use of coltran is a driving engine for the wars in eastern Congo.

In another article about cancer, Judith Newman profiles Steven Rosenberg in "I Have Seen Caners Disappear" (Discover). It is an excellent look at a leading cancer researcher both his professional and private life and provides insights on how the system works. Eric Schlosser's classic essay "Why McDonald's Fries Taste So Good" (The Atlantic Monthly) caused full-out riots in India when Hindus learned McDonalds fries use beef tallow and were not vegetarian. It's also just a great essay on the evils of fast food. Daniel Smith in "Shock and Disbelief" (The Atlantic Monthly) looks at Electro Shock Therapy (ECT) for the mentally ill. Long reviled by public opinion, there is actually considerable data to show it's effective - however with risks that are not fully disclosed to patients. This essay should be required reading for anyone considering ECT for themselves or others. Clive Thompson in "The Know-It-All Machine" (Lingua Franca) gives a good if now somewhat dated history of the Cyc project, an attempt to build an AI machine by the brute force method of entering every single possible fact that exists. Reviled by academics, it is either the biggest folly, or the beginnings Ai that works. Finally in "One Acre" (Harper's Magazine), Joy Williams delightfully recounts her experience fostering nature in a 1-acre plot of land in Florida and then eventually selling it with a conservation easement. The best for last, it is my favorite essay in the book.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2008 cc-by-nd ( )
  Stbalbach | Apr 5, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Angier, NatalieEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Folger, TimSeries Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618134786, Paperback)

Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundreds of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to the twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected -- and most popular -- of its kind.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2002, edited by Natalie Angier, is another "eclectic, provocative collection" (Entertainment Weekly). Malcolm Gladwell, Joy Williams, Barbara Ehrenreich, Burkhard Bilger, Dennis Overbye, and many more of the best and brightest writers on science and nature explore such topics as the rise and fall of Islamic science, disappearing cancers, and the meaning of mountain lions in the back yard.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:54 -0400)

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