The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2002

Ed. Angier, Natalie; Folger, Tim
Houghton Mifflin 2002
ISBN 0-618-13478-6
Date finished: 2003-04-22

An excellent collection of essays. Physics, math, and astronomy are poorly represented as usual, though there's a good article by Clive Thompson on Doug Lenat's Cyc project, from the late lamented Lingua Franca.

The jewel is Frederick C. Crew's NYRB piece on intelligent design, a well-argued attack. Barbara Ehrenreich's "Welcome to Cancerland", an angry reaction to the ineffective cuteness of breast cancer activism, all pink ribbons and teddy bears, is close behind it.

Two pieces are disturbing indicators of the future; Roy Baumeister's "Violent Pride" describes a study suggesting that high self-esteem and high narcissism is correlated with violent behaviour, and H. Bruce Franklin writes about the disappearing schools of menhaden, a fish critical to the Atlantic ecosystem. (This piece features the most infuriating quote in the book: Barney White, president of the Omega Protein fishing company, says the real problem is "the striped bass. We think the striped bass are eating all the juveniles." Uh huh.)

Richard Conniff and Harry Marshall contribute a fun article about searching for the yeti in Bhutan, Dennis Overbye writes about Islamic science, Malcolm Gladwell examines the SAT exams, Blaine Harden the effect of tantalum mining on the Congo, and there are several more worthwhile essays.

Anthologies usually have a few bad pieces, but this year there's only one real waste of paper, Garret Keizer's "Sound and Fury", an equivocating discussion of noise pollution that strives for cultured prose but says nothing; go read "The Tuning of the World" instead for a better-written and more knowledgeable discussion.

Two other pieces aren't perfect but are still worth reading. Joy William's "One Acre" starts off with the same oh-so-literary prose, but after skipping the first few pages it turns into a beautiful memoir of her Florida property. Peter Stark's "The Sting of the Assassin" weaves a fictional human-interest story in with its factual material, an experiment that doesn't really work; the characters are stock, and they're not real, so why bother reading about them?

Tagged: essays, science

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%T The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2002
%E Folger, Tim
%E Angier, Natalie
%D 2002
%I Houghton Mifflin
%G ISBN 0-618-13478-6
%@ 2003-04-22
%K science, essays

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