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The Best American Science and Nature Writing…
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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2010 (2010)

by Freeman Dyson (Editor), Tim Folger (Series Editor)

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Dyson does an excellent job editing this annual anthology of popular journalism on science and nature. Sources include The New Yorker, National Geographic, OnEarth, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, The American Scholar, Orion, The New York Review of Books, Discover, Wired, Living Bird, Conservation Magazine, and The New York Times. Topics range from astronomy and space exploration to neurology, climatology, environmentalism, and extinction. Most of the topics were of intense interest to me, most particularly recent research into what memory is (this was especially unnerving) and an apparent mass extinction taking place since humans expanded around the world (50,000 years, but a blink in geological terms). ( )
  auntmarge64 | Dec 2, 2010 |
The guest editor of 2010's edition, Freeman Dyson, is not my favorite. I find him negatively opinionated, counter-intuitive for the sake of it, and on the wrong side on environmental issues (a rebel without a cause). He is negative towards much of the material (calling it "fluff"), editorializes the section headers ("Gloom and Doom"), poisoning the well by interfering between the reader and the author. Leaving aside my gripes with Dyson (ie. trying to ignore his negative opinions of the material he has chosen for us to read (!)), there are some very good articles in this collection, below are some of my favorites.

Andrew Corsello's "The Believer" (GQ) is a nice up to date biography of Elon Musk - there have been a number of these, but his rapid accomplishments warrant a new one every few years. Like Henry Ford, Musk will probably leave behind a lifetime trail of biographical works about (and by) him, it's always a pleasure to read the latest. Jane Goodall in "The Lazarus Effect" (Discover) is a short piece about how a species of stick-bug was saved from extinction through the discovery of a population of 4 or 5 insects living on a single bush on a remote island in Australia, the last of the species. The juxtaposition of epic save vs. irrelevant bug is literary.

Jim Carrier in "All You Can Eat" (Orion) is about where all those endless bowels of shrimp come from at Red Lobster (and 90% of the shrimp sold in the USA). Turns out most come from unregulated toxic ponds in third world countries - this article has turned me off from eating shrimp except from known organic sources in the USA and Canada. Felix Salmon in "A Formula for Disaster" (Wired) describes David X. Li, a Chinese immigrant who invented a flawed math formula for valuing real-estate risk that was used to create financial instruments that lead to the 2008 real-estate bubble burst. Li has since returned to China.

Elizabeth Kolbert in "The Sixth Extinction?" (The New Yorker) gives a compelling and dark story about how the current extinction rates compare with past extinction. In short: very fast. Robert Kunzig in "Scraping Bottom" (National Geographic) describes Canadian tar sand mining and its environmental impacts and economics, it's an important story that will become increasingly contentious in the future. Richard Manning in "Graze Anatomy" (OnEarth) describes the value of letting cows eat grass instead of corn-fed. I've known about this for years but it's very important and this article quickly educates. Finally, Burkhard Bilger in "Hearth Surgery" describes the quest to build the perfect wood-fired stove for third-world homes. It is surprisingly complex and riddled with 30+ years of failure, but the future of the atmosphere may depend on reducing soot and CO2 emissions from these stoves, which are used by about half of humanity. The article mentions StoveTec which has a number of fascinating YouTube videos of these stoves being manufactured and in use, I may even buy one for myself someday.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2010 cc-by-nd ( )
  Stbalbach | Nov 15, 2010 |
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Folger, TimSeries Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0547327846, Paperback)

Freeman Dyson, renowned physicist and public intellectual, edits this year’s volume of the finest science and nature writing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:19 -0400)

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