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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,327 ratings  ·  137 reviews
The Best American Series®
First, Best, and Best-Selling

The Best American series is the premier annual showcase for the country’s finest short fiction and nonfiction. Each volume’s series editor selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites. A special guest editor, a leading writer in the field, then chooses the best twenty or so pieces to publi
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2010)
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Dec 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
These books are great additions to my lunch box. I can read most articles in one sitting & they're almost always fantastic. It's a great series & I was really interested in this one since it was edited by Mary Roach. I've been a fan of hers since she wrote a column in Reader's Digest & I've enjoyed all her books. Her quirky sense of humor meshes well with mine & she picks interesting subjects to write about, so I figured this collection had to be great & it was. Highly recommended!

A couple of ti
David Rubenstein
I love these annual anthologies of essays on nature and science. They are superb. The essays cover a very wide range of subjects. For example, the illicit trade in human organs, the clean-up of oil spills in the ocean, fermentation, the government's poisoning of alcohol during the Prohibition, songbird trapping in the Mediterranean area, the flying fish (silver carp) in the Illinois River, and the high rates of error in much of the published body of medical research. Oh--that's just the beginnin ...more
Deb Oestreicher
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing

This is not necessarily a snapshot of the state of science in 2011; rather, it's an assemblage of some of the best articles. As it happens, a lot of the best articles are about the crappy stuff we do the planet and it's creatures. So a good number of articles are upsetting rather than uplifting. But I still learned a great deal: coyotes wandering through the streets of major cities may be an unfortunate result of what we've been doing to the environment, as may a recent explosion in jellyfish p
Amy L. Campbell
Note: Advanced copy for review provided by Netgalley.

After providing us with several stellar science works of her own, Roach has selected some wonderful articles for this collection. Each article seems to reflect a bit of Roach's sensibilities as they contain a touch of humor, an underlying sense of concern and urgency, but an overall hopeful that science can provide a solution for our ecological, medical, and personal woes. Most of the articles are fairly easy to read and digest, and those that
Sep 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
Most Surprising: Abigail Tucker on jellyfish and climate change
Most Appalling: Tim Zimmerman on orcas in captivity
Most Alarming: Sandra Steingraber on fracking
Most Elegantly Written: George Musser on concepts of time's end in physics
Most Anthologized-But-Still-Worth-Rereading: Burkhard Bilger on freegans and locavores
Most Frustratingly Short: Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow on the (elusive) Theory of Everything
Most Heartwrenching: Atul Gawande on palliative care and end-of-life decisions
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle
I really enjoyed most essays in these collection. Strangely however, given that I'm an astrophysicist, my two favorite essays weren't those about space/physics, but about health/medicine; they also happen to be available for free online:

Atul Gawande, Letting Go

David H. Freedman, Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science

I also liked Oliver Sacks' Face-Blind, Luke Dittrich's The Brain That Changed Everything , Jon Mooallem's The Love That Dare Not Squawk Its Name , and Sandra Steingrabe
Article highlights for me were:

Nature's Spoils by Burkhard Bilger: An interesting look at the extreme "opportunivore" lifestyle, where nothing goes to waste and much of what you eat and wear you make and grow yourself.

The Brain That Changed Everything by Luke Dittrich: Great article about the man who underwent an incredibly questionable brain surgery, leaving him with very limited ability to retain new information. While an incredibly sad story for the patient, studies of his brain gave scientis
Barb Middleton
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, nonfiction
At the University of Minnesota's Journalism School I kept a dozen or so articles and poems that unlocked my writer's block like a "polyrhythmic jam session." This book reminds me of those inspirations. The in-depth reporting, clever arrangement, extensive resources, and beautiful writing has made this a favorite I won't be forgetting about in the near future.

A collection of nonfiction nature and science stories; my favorite was about fermentation. That's right. Fermentation. Author Burkhard Bilg
Dennis Schvejda
Nov 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, kindle
A compilation of 25 articles, if not the best, then at least good reads all. I read this book on a Kindle, a Christmas gift from my daughter and her husband.

A few interesting items from the book:

* Nearly all the DNA in bodies belongs to microorganisms: they outnumber our own cells nine to one.

*By the time Prohibition ended in 1933, a federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.

* The differences between chimp and human sperm can help explain why humans miscar
Apr 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Each year, a series of best of writing books are released in various categories such as travel, short stories, mystery, etc. This year's edition of the science and nature writing genre was edited by Mary Roach and Tim Folger. Mary Roach has made the focal point of her writing life in the science field, popularizing the research into fields such as sex, death and various other topics. Tim Folger is a contributing editor at Discover magazine and is familiar with a wide range of scientific fields.

Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Oh, this was a fun read. From now on I'm ignoring the Best American Stories collection and going straight for Science & Nature Writing. There are a few misses here, but Roach overall is a great curator. Most notably, there's a typically fantastic Atul Gawande piece on end-of-life care, "The Organ Dealer" on (yeah, duh) selling kidneys on the black market, Franzen's bit on the hunting of songbirds in Europe, Frazier's "Fish Out of Water" about the silver carp invasion of American waterways, and O ...more
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthologies, science
There's a wide variety of articles in here, and you can probably find one to suit your personal tastes. You'll find physics, marine biology, medicine, ornithology, geology, entomology, and much more in this volume, and all of it well-written and interesting. The article that particularly affected me was Atul Gawanade's essay "Letting Go", mostly because it covered something that I've personally had to deal with recently.

ETA: Since all of the essays in this volume were previously published in oth
Oct 04, 2011 rated it liked it
As with any collection of works by multiple authors, you're not going to love all of the articles included in this book, but nevertheless there are enough good ones that it's worth reading. Maybe it was just me warming up to it, but it seemed like they got better as it went along. My advice? If you get bored with any one article, just skip ahead to the next one. Some of my favorites were "Could Time End?" (George Musser), "Letting Go" (Atul Gawande), and "Taking a Fall" (Dan Kowppel). Despite my ...more
A grab bag of stories by different writers on a wide variety of science and nature topics.
There are some that I find disturbing, the ones that deal with the threats to endangered species (e.g. songbirds from unrestricted hunting in Europe and other species from habitat destruction.) Of the rest some were a lot more interesting to me than others - based on my interests, course, so any other reader would no doubt find a different mix of 'wow' and 'okay, so?'
The other find, for me, is that Mary Roa
Rift Vegan
May 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a great collection of articles and definitely the best book in this series that I've read so far! Some articles were fascinating (The Love That Dare Not Squawk Its Name, about female pairs of nesting albatrosses), some just left me shaking my head (Waste MGMT, about all the space junk orbiting the earth), some left me shaking in anger (The Killer in the Pool, about Tilikum the captive orca), and some were just "What The Heck??!" (The Chemist's War, about the US gov poisoning industrial a ...more
Odi Akhyarsi
Jul 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
I always love reading scientific/technology/nature writing, especially ones written in not too scientific style -- quite a paradoxical though :) --. This book is rich of that type of writing. The book took me to the amazing stories about the illegal kidney trading in India, Stephen Hawking's theory of everything, persons that are unable to recognize friend's/family's faces, about garbages in our satellite orbit, etc.

No doubt, I will find and read the 2012,2013, and 2014, ... editions.

Oct 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I'm going to have to start reading this anthology. I took my time with it, because each article/essay was deeply fascinating, disturbing, or despairing. I learned so much from them. Ms. Roach chose a great selection of works for this book, and while some of the chapters made me feel sad and helpless, nonetheless I'm glad I learned a little more about our beautiful, fragile world. ...more
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Really great articles in this collection. I especially liked "The Killer in the Pool" by Tim Zimmermann which chronicled the rise of orca whale captures for human entertainment and the life of the notorious Tilikum who was involved with three human deaths. I also enjoyed "Face Blind" by Oliver Sacks about the facial recognition disorder called prosopagnosia. ...more
Elizabeth A
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
I have dipped in and out of this essay collection for the past couple of months. Some are excellent, and some merely good, but I found all of them fascinating and/or informative. The essays in this book have given me much to think about, and has sparked some lively dinner table conversations in our house.
May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Best American… series are some of my favorite to pick up at the library book sale. They’re often there, usually only a couple of books, and they’re reliably interesting. I tend to go for the Science and Nature ones in particular. And this one was edited by Mary Roach, which seemed as good a reason as any to pick it over others.

This one was excellent, as always, with several essays that have stood out and had me thinking about them long after. Burkhard Bilger’s “Natures Spoils”, about the str
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book may not be a timeless classic , but it’s still very timely . Our scientific understanding of the topics described may have deepened and varied slightly in the past several years but it hadn’t changed entirely . For example , we’re still struggling with space debris and have only managed to see a first logistical satellite launched in recent months.
I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed this book. The scientific endeavors in it were told as stories , full of pathos and intrigue. I lost my
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Since this is a collection of scientific articles, each by different authors and because the articles are varied in their subject matter, some were more interesting than others. I think I would have like the book better in physical form rather than in digital format so that I could better see the breadth of the document. Scientific matter is difficult to read in digital format for me. All that said, I would definitely seek out the other years' books as I learned a great deal and was "forced" to ...more
Aug 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Loved the wide range of topics but a bit much to read straight through. And definitely not light uplifting journalism.

Waste MGNT by Evan Schwartz was the most startling to me. Our night skies are becoming so full of debris and ever increasing satellite traffic that I wasn't aware of. Five possible collisions a day back in 2010. Written well before SpaceX launched the Starlink satellite constellation that will number in the thousands. The concern of orbiting space junk and air traffic control of
Sylvia Snowe
Apr 16, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I've always been a fan of Mary Roach's work--she is a truly accessible science journalist. This collection of stories reflects her commitment to readable, entertaining, but rigorous reporting of science. Only a couple of the stories I skipped--there have been books in this series where at least half the stories were overly technical, boring, and long--but nearly every story here was excellent. Science was never sacrificed, but neither was entertainment value. The story of the tedium of drug scre ...more
Oct 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
This collection has a pretty good variety of topics and I enjoyed most of these articles/essays except the space ones because frankly, I could not care less about space. Or about how some people are obsessed with the idea of whether time will end or not... definitely not my thing. What I got most out of reading this collection was that many of the more relevant issues such as fracking, oil spills, and animal-human interactions are STILL HUGE PROBLEMS and are even larger problems than they were i ...more
Kate Atonic
Picked this up because I adore Mary Roach’s writing style. She’s wry and funny, informative without being pedantic, and breaks complicated ideas down so that they’re easy to understand and remember. It’s no surprise that the only sections I highlighted were from her forward. I found several of these essays to be too depressing to finish, others written far beyond my understanding of the subject. I was expecting light introductions that would pique my interest for further study.
Feb 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was quite entertaining and lots of interesting information. Since this was compiled in 2011, it would be interesting to do some research on these topics and see whether any information has changed or evolved since then. If you like learning about science and especially the ways humans interact and impact their environment, then you'll enjoy the selection of essays here. It's informative and most of them are interesting, and not dry. ...more
Linda Martin
Jan 16, 2022 rated it liked it
Mostly I read the newest fiction books but occasionally I get a longing for good non-fiction writing about nature and science. The Best American Science and Nature Writing book of yearly essays is my go-to series to satisfy that longing. I'm going back and reading some I've missed and 2011 did not disappoint. Something for everybody. ...more
Ray Savarda
Sep 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-and-sold
Very interesting collection of stories, well written and for the most part engaging.
From astronomy to health to the tradition of eating songbirds around the Mediterranean, to Orcas at SeaWorld, a nice collection.
Tom Scott
Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's worthwhile to read intelligent and diverse articles about science and nature. Probably more now than ever.
With this, I complete my 2017 challenge of 36 books. On to 2018!
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Mary Roach is a science author who specializes in the bizarre and offbeat; with a body of work ranging from deep-dives on the history of human cadavers to the science of the human anatomy during warfare.

Mary Roach is the author of the New York Times bestsellers STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; GULP: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, PACKING FOR MARS: The Curious Science of Life in the

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