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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011 (Best American Science and Nature Writing #2011)

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,090 Ratings  ·  122 Reviews
A great collection of short biology articles that include fiction and non-fiction.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2010)
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Mar 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to David by: Preeti
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 po
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 Steingraber's The
Dec 01, 2015 is currently reading it
Review in progress...

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.

A coup
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Science geeks
Recommended to Jayme by: Cindy
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
Recommends it for: michelle ward
Shelves: nonfiction, adult
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, a ...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.

Elizabeth A
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013, non-fiction
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.
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.
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.
Michael Miller
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Though untrained, I am a science junkie. These non-technical collections are always a treat, always informative. Of course, such compilations are always uneven and everyone’s interests are different. But this edition has more really intriguing entries and fewer that are speculative bunk. I would rate it as one of the best, if not the best, editions ever of this annual series.

Among the five-star, wow-that-was-good essays were: The BRAIN THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING (the study of one man’s brain, both
Feb 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, read-in-2013
I been reading this series for years, but just now got around to reading the 2011 edition. As with any compilation of essays, it's always a bit hit or miss. I found this one to be above average. It always comes down to the editor's personal tastes and since I enjoy Mary Roach's books, I wasn't surprised to find I enjoyed most of the essays.

As always, there's a great range in topics covered. Some of my favorites included:

"Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science" which discusses the frightening re
Jun 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
The 2011 edition of the Best American Science and Nature Series is constructed around the parameters of a dizzying array of disciplines. The structure of the collection pinballs around between medical deviance, rotten meat, invading coyotes, space trash, and eventually landing at Tilikum, the Killer Whale who fulfilled his eponymous destiny.

The front leaders of the collection are Jill Quinn's "Sign Here if You Exist," Atul Gawande's "Letting Go," and Tim Zimmerman's "Killer in the Pool."

Not all
Liz B
Jan 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science, ebook
Close enough, you guys. Close enough. (To finishing. I read a LOT of this book last year, if not quite all.)

I bought this because I have so loved Mary Roach's nonfiction writing, but it turns out that what she likes to read (or at least I presume it's what she likes to read, since she's the editor here) is not the same as what she likes to write. Which is cool!! But this was just too damn much for me. I surrender.

I suppose this was good for me, since I am always insisting that kids read. But I d
A good collection, many good pieces here that need to be read by a wider audience: Bhattacharjee's "The Organ Dealer" about the illegal kidney trade
Bilger's gag-inducing (at the very end) "Nature's Spoils"
Dittrich's "The Brain That Changed Everything" which brings a very personal sense of history to the story of a man with brain damage resulting from a surgically-absent hippocampus
Freedman's "Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science" which highlights how reported medical research oftentimes is l
Mar 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, kindle
I don't read pieces about physics. Or weird pseudo-scientific musings on religion?

There were several pieces I skipped right over, but there were others I really enjoyed. It's a mixed bag with a handful of pieces that stuck with me.

I was THRILLED to read Oliver Sacks' piece about face blindness since that's a challenge (disability? disorder?) I've only recently identified as my own. Reading about the struggles Sacks has, as well some of the science behind the problem was... heartening really. I d
Aug 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
One of the things people cite as reasons for listening to NPR are that they can then use what they heard to make small talk or spark conversations. It's a stereotype about people like me, and it's true. This book is pretty much the same thing. I found myself multiple times saying, "Did you know that...?" and "I just read..."

I didn't read all the pieces (it was due back at the library), but I read most of them, and the ones I read I enjoyed, for the most part. Some of them drifted into more jargo
Mieke Mcbride
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mary Roach put together a great collection of science writing, including essays by writers including Oliver Sacks, Jonathan Franzen, and Malcolm Gladwell. Sacks' essay was one of my favorite-- not surprising because I love him. His essay is about face blindness, a condition he apparently suffers from, though he spends much of the essay talking about cases of extreme face blindness. Other highlights are an essay on Sea World and orcas (which I imagine is a lot like Blackfish though I haven't seen ...more
Oct 24, 2011 rated it liked it
I love the Best American series and especially the Science and Nature Writing but the 2011 edition was not my favorite. It's hard to say if it's just the state of the world or Mary Roach's particular choices but this round is pretty chock full of doom and gloom. For example, I saved Atul Gawande's essay "Letting Go" for last, having loved his book COMPLICATIONS, but it was hard to get past the opening sentence: "Sara Thomas Monopoli was pregnant with her first child when her doctors learned that ...more
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a book that elevates readers to the sublime then drops them to the depths of despair. Stories that led to amazement and wonder were: The Brain that Changed Everything (about progress in brain research), Cosmic Blueprint of Life (about evolution of DNA and RNA), and a Stephen Hawking piece about research on the theory of everything. Nearly all the other articles were depressing alarms about the degradation of the oceans, the aquifers, the rivers, and the atmosphere caused by bad resource ...more
Oct 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
This anthology contains a number of excellent articles, but there are more sub-par pieces than I recall from past editions. But this aside, the tenor of the book as a whole is of depression and resignation. Most of the articles deal with death or how grossly and irredeemably we have messed up this planet (including the orbital space around the planet). Even coyotes are characterized as "weed species". I hoped for a few stories that would engender wonder and awe. This is not to say that I didn't ...more
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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 Void; and BONK: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.

Her most recent book, GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War, is out in June 2016.

Mary has written for National Geographic, Wired, Discover
More about Mary Roach...

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