David's Reviews > The Best American Science Writing 2010

The Best American Science Writing 2010 by Jerome Groopman
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Oct 07, 10

bookshelves: read-in-2010, anthologies-and-collections
Read in October, 2010 — I own a copy

This annual selection is generally a good bet, though there have been some recent bum years (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). Series editor Jesse Cohen minimized his risk this year by prevailing on Jerome Groopman to serve as guest editor. Dr Groopman's own science writing is familiar to readers of the New Yorker; he is also author of several best-selling books. For me, seeing his name on the cover of this anthology was an immediate guarantee of quality - I'm pleased to say that the collection lived up to my expectations.

In his otherwise excellent introduction Dr Groopman introduces the metaphor that the book might be thought of as a "symphony of science". It's not a particularly fortuitous choice (one suspects it may have been forced on him by the series editor), but he struggles gamely with it to the bitter end. I prefer his introduction to a previous, similar, anthology (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33...), in which he laid out his criteria for inclusion:

"the articles ... have novel and surprising arguments, protagonists who articulate their themes in clear, cogent voices, and vivid cinema. They are not verbose or tangential. They are filled with simple declarative sentences. ... I suspect none of the articles was easy to write. Each shows a depth of thought and reporting that takes time and considerable effort."


These are admirable criteria, indicating an editor who keeps the reader's welfare firmly in mind. And, with very few exceptions, the articles in the 2010 anthology satisfy them, so that the collection is accessible, thought-provoking and fun to read. I came away with the impression of a slight bias in favor of biomedical research (only weakly confirmed upon closer inspection of article categories), and a relatively narrow spectrum of sources:

New York Times : 5
New Yorker : 3
Science : 3
Salon.com : 2
Wired : 2

and one each from The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Harper's, Discover, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Scientific American, and Science News.

This reliance on sources from what might be termed the "north-eastern establishment" prevented me from awarding a fifth star - one thing I look for in this kind of anthology is to be led to articles I might not otherwise come across, and on this criterion Dr Groopman let me down. But this sin of omission was a relatively minor disappointment, given the high quality of the articles that were included.

Some of the contributors are famous scientists(Steven Pinker My Genome, My Self, Steven Weinberg The Missions of Astronomy), some are established science writers (Elizabeth Kolbert, Benedict Carey, David Dobbs), all but a few* contributors write clearly and engagingly.

My favorite articles were Elizabeth Kolbert's contribution about the link between climate change and the extinction of entire species and Sheri Fink's account of the agonizing triage choices that hospital staff faced after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. But there were at least a dozen other articles that were strong contenders.

This is an excellent anthology, which I have no hesitation in recommending.


* : I read Daniel M. Wegner's How to Think, Say, or Do Precisely the Worst Thing for Any Occasion three times and found it as devoid of substance on the third reading as on the first. Jonah Lehrer's The Truth about Grit had the blindingly obvious message that perseverance is necessary to succeed in science, but ran for almost eight pages and resorted to such unfortunate verbiage as "a gritty person might occasionally eat too much chocolate cake, but they won't change careers every year".
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jessica (new)

Jessica sounds good...look forward to your review


message 2: by Joe (new)

Joe Shamah Thanks for this review, I read the 2007 version and enjoyed it... look forward to getting my hands on this edition.


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