Splendid anthology of the year’s finest science and nature articles, curated and introduced by the New York Times Pulitzer Prize–winning science writer.
Although varied in theme and subject, the pieces work well as a set, offering many innovative ideas, theories, critiques, and observations to pay overall tribute to human curiosity. These 27 articles display creativity and even playfulness as the authors break down complex scientific subjects for the average reader. Roy F. Baumeister takes a fresh look at some old myths about human aggression; Frederick J. Crews explores the strange world of the anti-Darwinists and the battle over Creationism; Joy Williams submits a memoir of her life as the land-owning neighbor of a lagoon; and Gordon Grice shares a close encounter with the re-emergent mountain lion, an inspiring but deadly creature whose numbers are now increasing where agriculture and residential sprawl meet former wilderness. Barbara Ehrenreich contributes a thoughtful essay about her breast cancer diagnosis and arrival at the gates of the sometimes tacky subculture she calls “Cancerland” (also included in Gould’s The Best American Essays 2002, see below); Malcolm Gladwell grades the life and work of SAT-buster Stanley H. Kaplan; and Gary Greenberg, following the saga of a terminally ill little boy whose role as an organ donor gives his short life meaning, examines prevalent legal, social, and medical notions about “brain death.” Two timely favorites here will be “Why McDonald’s Fries Taste So Good,” by Eric Schlosser (from his bestselling book, Fast Food Nation), and Dennis Overbye’s “How Islam Won, and Lost, the Lead in Science,” a historical overview that will fascinate readers newly curious about the Arab world. Controversial topics include the rights of the dying, the singular gift (or burden) of motherhood, and the grim reality of shock therapy, explored with often provocative results. But the collection’s real noteworthiness comes from its authors’ consistently bright insights and buoyant prose.
An elite grouping of very readable and informative articles on some of today’s most challenging and colorful scientific issues.