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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008

by Jerome Groopman (Editor)

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A collection of mostly well written essays on every nerdy topic imaginable. Great for reading in snippets, and excellent for sparking curiosity about things like ligers, zonkeys, Mayan writing, the universe and much more. ( )
  readaholic12 | Dec 31, 2012 |
This is my 10th in the series. 2008 was an average year, though it will depend on your familiarity with the subjects. I tend to get most excited when learning new ideas or perspectives but most of the articles in this collection cover material I was previously familiar with. However some are well written they are sort of mini-classics. Four in particular stood out:

1. "The Interpreter" about linguist Dan Everett who is an interesting subject, the Amazon tribe is fascinating, the linguistic science curious, and the take-down of Chomsky delightful. A generous piece and probably the best of the bunch.

2. "Swingers" is about the Bonobo apes, I was disillusioned to learn they are not the peace loving hippie ape of yore, but actually tightly wound and capable of serious violence. Required reading for anyone who thinks Bonobo's are happy free sex swingers.

3. "Deadly Contact", this is the piece that led to the book Spillover (2012). Interesting but now I think reading the extended book version might be optional.

4. "How to Trick an Online Scammer", this is about the people who trick the tricksters, the Nigerian 419 scammers, nothing new there. But what raises this piece above the typical are the last few pages which discuss the larger meaning of trolling. There are a couple choice quotes that get to the heart of the dark side of online discourse, specifically how "dishinibation" can result in heroes becoming villains. It reminds me of a quote: "Who's the more fool. The fool or the fool who follows the fool." ( )
  Stbalbach | Dec 6, 2012 |
One of the better entries in this series, this collection of essays includes pieces dealing with linguistics, archeology, psychology, and the history of science, in addition to the harder sciences. I found these essays particularly stimulating: John Colapinto, 'the Interpreter', about an American linguist who has spent a career studying the Piraha language in the Amazon; Michael Finkel, 'Malaria: Stopping a Global Killer'; Edward Hoagland's searing 'Children Are Diamonds', excerpts from the author's stints as a medical volunteer in Africa; Walter Kirn, 'the Autumn of the Multi-taskers', a hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn rant against technology by a funny writer who I'd nonetheless ask to text me pictures of palm trees too (read the essay, you'll see); and David Quammen, 'Deadly Contact', about diseases that can cross boundaries between humans and animal species. But beyond specific essays, it seems to me that most of the pieces in this anthology have either a narrator or a subject who is unusual and engaging. As a result, reading the collection is like spending an evening at a lively cocktail party where all the small talk has been banished and the interesting guests are all telling great stories on themselves or each other. ( )
  bezoar44 | Oct 25, 2010 |
An anthology of "science and nature" (defined very loosely, which didn't really bother me) writing from magazines and journals. Like all anthologies, this one was of mixed quality, but overall I enjoyed it.

The articles I found most engaging were:

--a linguistics controversy regarding the nature of an Amazonian language called Piraha, which appears unrelated to any other human language and contains just 8 consonants and 3 vowels but possesses a huge number of tones, stresses, and syllable lengths.

--a rather disturbing article about biotechnology which seemed to basically ignore the ethical and ecological implications of genetic engineering and focused more on the "isn't it cool?" factor, suggesting that one day biotech will have advanced to a point where "Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture" and will be used to entertain bored housewives or children.

--an interesting but rather short-sighted article about robotics in the military. The author predicted that one day all important military forces will rely on robotic land forces (in addition to current air-based systems, like automated Predator drones). Basically he says that war will one day be fought only between robots & will essentially be meaningless because robots will decimate other robots & no human lives will be lost. Still, this article made me want to learn more about military robotics, which is not generally a reading area of mine. :)

--Islam and science - I don't remember why anymore, but I remember being irritated by this article.

--an article about viral outbreaks and how viruses spread across species

--And finally, an article about people who devote significant time & energy toward scamming people who run Internet scams and whether these people are racist, given that many internet scammers tend to be from African countries. This was a really weird article about a topic I'd never even heard of. The most outrageous story provides the background for the title, "How To Trick an Online Scammer into Carving a Computer out of Wood". A version of this article originally ran in the Atlantic Monthly & might be available online, if anyone is interested in really bizarre scams. ( )
  fannyprice | May 2, 2009 |
I read this collection over a period of time, between other books. This collection stresses evolution, biology, viruses, epidemiology, linguistics and archeology over astrophysics. There are strong pieces by David Quammen on viral zoonosis and Olivia Judson on the genetics of altruism. There is a forceful piece by Michael Finkel on malaria. Ian Parker's article "Swingers" casts a skeptical and humorous eye on what we know about bonobos, and how the bonobo has become a cultural icon for self-satisfied and romantic humans. At the heart of the collection, Edward Hoagland's "Children are Diamonds" tours the Africa of starvation, illness, war and international aid. ( )
  BraveKelso | Apr 25, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618834478, Paperback)

“The articles . . . draw the reader more tightly into the web of the world. They forge links in unexpected ways. They connect us to nature and to each other, and those connections nourish the intellect and uplift the spirit.”—Jerome Groopman, M.D., editor

This year’s Best American Science and Nature Writing offers another rich assortment of “fascinating science and impressive journalism” (New Scientist) culled from an array of periodicals, such as The New Yorker, Scientific American, and National Geographic. The twenty-four provocative and often visionary stories chosen by guest editor Jerome Groopman form an outstanding sampling of the very best in a field of writing that stays ahead of the curve, bringing important topics to the forefront of American discussion.
In “The Universe’s Invisible Hand,” Christopher Conselice takes us into the recent spectacular discovery of the crucial role of dark energy, which is making our universe expand faster and faster. Florence Williams tells the story of a more down-to-earth form of energy in “A Mighty Wind,” which describes how a small Danish island community is making great leaps in energy conservation by using innovative wind farms. John Cohen explores the marvelous world of ligers, zorses, wholphins, and other hybridized creatures in “Zonkeys Are Pretty Much My Favorite Animal.” And Robin Marantz Henig delves into the possibly hazardous ramifications of the rapidly expanding science of nanotechnology.
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008 packs a wallop of intriguing, informative, and wondrous stories, each one bringing with it, as Jerome Groopman writes, “a sense of excitement [to be] shared with others.”

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:30 -0400)

Collects nature- and science-based essays by such authors as Anne Fadiman, Brian Hayes, Cullen Murphy, and Gary Taubes.

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