Fourth in this invaluable series, edited by the well-known neurologist (Uncle Tungsten, 2001, etc.) and dedicated to the memory of Stephen Jay Gould.
Sacks’s introduction cites Gould as the master of making an esoteric subject seem the most interesting thing in the world, and the present volume illustrates that point in disciplines ranging from astronomy to zoology. In “The Forest Primeval,” Peter Canby visits a nature preserve in the Congo, looking at animals that may be even now on the verge of extinction. Charles C. Mann’s “1491” examines the size of the Americas’ pre-Columbian population, which may have been far larger than traditional accounts suggest. Physician Atul Gawande writes about learning surgery by practicing on patients unaware that their doctor is a complete novice at the procedure they’re undergoing. Floyd Skloot describes how Alzheimer's patients remember music long after their other memories are gone, using his own mother as example. Trevor Corson looks at the current state of American lobster fisheries, which many scientists feel are on the verge of collapse. Michael Klesius recapitulates the emergence of flowering plants as the dominant flora of our world. Dennis Overbye salutes Stephen Hawking’s groundbreaking analysis of the physics of black holes. Richard C. Lewontin and Richard Levins bring the collection full circle with a tribute to Gould’s scientific radicalism. Articles on medicine and the biological sciences make up the bulk of the contents, but this year’s edition contains expanded coverage of the physical sciences, from a good-humored discussion of crackpot theories in physics to a meditation on how the mathematical relationships of quantum theory may embody the ancient notion of the “music of the spheres.”
The perfect gift for fans of science and science writing.