The Best American Science Writing 2003

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9780066211633: The Best American Science Writing 2003

In his introduction to The Best American Science Writing 2003, Dr. Oliver Sacks, whom the New York Times has called "the poet laureate of medicine," writes that "the best science writing ... cannot be completely 'objective' -- how can it be when science itself is so human an activity? -- but it is never self-indulgently subjective either. It is, at best, a wonderful fusion, as factual as a news report, as imaginative as a novel." It is with this definition of "good" science writing in mind that Dr. Sacks has selected the twenty-five extraordinary pieces that make up the latest installment of this acclaimed annual.

This year, Peter Canby travels into the heart of remote Africa to track a remarkable population of elephants; Atul Gawande shows us the way doctors learn their skills by performing supposedly routine procedures on unsuspecting patients. With candor and tenderness, Floyd Sklootobserves the toll Alzheimer's disease is taking on his ninety-one-year-old mother, and is fascinated by the memories she retains. Marcelo Gleiser asks: If we are the universe's sole intelligent species, then what must we do to be good citizens of the cosmos? Natalie Angier writes about the challenge of traveling to distant stars. Gunjan Sinha explores the mating behavior of the common prairie vole and what it reveals about the human pattern of monogamy. Michael Klesius attempts to solve what Darwin called "an abominable mystery": How did flowers originate? Lawrence Osborne tours a farm where a genetically modified goat produces the silk of spiders in its milk. Joseph D'Agnese visits a home for retired medical research chimps. And in the collection's final piece, Richard C. Lewontin and Richard Levins reflect on how the work of Stephen Jay Gould demonstrated the value of taking a radical approach to science.

As this series firmly attests, science writing has achieved a central place in our culture, and one can posit that the reason why has to do with the special thrill of discovery that a cogent piece of science writing can elicit. As Dr. Sacks writes of Stephen Jay Gould -- to whose memory this year's anthology is dedicated -- an article of his "was never predictable, never dry, could not be imitated or mistaken for anybody else's." The same can be said of all of the writing contained in contributions to this diverse collection "that can be enjoyed by laymen, scientists, and writers alike" (Nature).

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About the Author:

Oliver Sacks is the author of nine books, including the acclaimed bestsellers The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, An Anthropolgist on Mars, and Awakenings, which inspired the Oscar-winning movie of the same name. He is clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, as well as a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and numerous medical and scientific journals.

From Publishers Weekly:

Award winning author and neurobiologist Sacks (Uncle Tungsten, etc.) has done a fabulous job of selecting 25 diverse pieces for this thoroughly enjoyable collection. Sacks's choices represent most of the sciences, from botany to physics, cognition to evolutionary biology, and originally appeared in large-circulation outlets (Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times Magazine) and small ones (Southwest Review, Wings, Monthly Review). What they all have in common is their uncanny ability to engage the reader from the very first sentence and present complex material in an accessible form. Sacks claims that the best science writing "has a swiftness and naturalness, a transparency and clarity, not clogged with pretentiousness or literary artifice." All of his selections meet this high standard. In the book's longest essay, Peter Canby writes of joining an English zoologist on his trek across the Congo studying elephants, and the reader is there with them for every step. Brendan Koerner discusses how drug companies market new diseases-like compulsive shopping-as a way of creating niches for their older drugs. And Lawrence Osborne describes a start-up biotech company's desire to create silk by inserting the silk-producing gene from a golden orb-weaving spider into a goat and harvesting the silk from the milk produced. Additional highlights include reports on fraud in physics, the problems associated with chimpanzees "retired" from serving as medical research subjects, and the possibility and problems of long-term space travel. The book is perfect for browsing and is almost impossible to put down.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Oliver, PhD Sacks
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