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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  779 ratings  ·  79 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 publish.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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Jonathan Peto
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
The guest editor of the the 2012 volume of this series, Dan Ariely, lays out an interesting viewpoint in his introduction. His view of science is activist and centers on humanity, which makes sense since he’s a professor of psychology and behavioral economics. He writes that, for him, “ of the main goals for science in the years to come..." is " figure out the human condition and design our environment to reduce our tendency for error and maximize our potential.” That affects his sele ...more
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was utterly, completely fascinating. I can't recommend it enough.

In case the title doesn't render it obvious, this is a collection of articles written on science and nature topics. Nearly all of it is written for a mainstream audience, so one need not be a scientist to comprehend the vast majority of it. (One article about quantum physics was over my head.)

I will admit - some of the articles I half expected someone to pop out of the woodwork and ask me, "Really? You believed that? Yo
Rift Vegan
Sep 19, 2014 rated it did not like it
Worst Sci & Nat anthology ever. Some, or even many, of the articles would have been interesting to read by themselves, but they were all very "human-centric" shall we say, with lots of hubris. The first 1/2 of the book had so many mice experiments I started marking them in the margins. So stupid: what century do we live in? And who thinks experimenting on mice has any relevance to anything other than proving the sadism of the scientist? And then, in the Animal section... huh, it was all about ex ...more
Peter Corrigan
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
A really interesting set of articles on a wide variety of topics: microbes, octopus intelligence, ant warfare, genetic paleontology, quantum computing, the origin of bitcoin, intercontinental pollution and the Turing Test. Impossible to summarize in any meaningful way given the incredibly disparate subjects but almost all were fascinating and worth reading. And a side benefit of reading the 2012 edition is the ability to look up how well some experiments have performed in the near-decade since t ...more
Well...this volume hits kind of a weird middle-space for me. Taken individually, the essays in this edition of Best Science and Nature Writing are good pieces of journalism. Six come from The New Yorker, three each from Scientific American, Wired, and National Geographic, two each from Outside, The Atlantic, and Discover, and singles from California Magazine, Popular Science, and Orion. But together...somehow they strike me as lacking in breadth, if that makes sense.

After an introduction focusin
Apr 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
This issue of the anthology was another good one. Not every article was fascinating but most were interesting. There was a very good piece about Svante Paabo and his work on Neanderthal DNA and another about Wallace J Nichols, who does ocean conservation by appealing to people’s emotions instead of reason. One article began with a story of a teenager in jail for driving 113 mph, which inspired the author to explore how and when the brain reaches full maturity. Another brain story looked at the T ...more
Emma Roulette
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I can't get enough of these books. As always, a fascinating selection of articles. Learned about the science of crowd catastrophes, people who compete in Turing test competitions, human pheromones, and turning on certain genes in modern organisms to express ancestral traits. The most interesting piece had to be "The Brain on Trial", where David Eagleman dismantles free will and identity, showing how ambiguous and problematic it can be to make any sort of legal decision, and then discusses how we ...more
Fascinating! I like the way this year's editor, Dan Ariely, arranged the stories from those dealing with very small subjects to those tackling progressively larger-scale topics. If this one has a main theme, I'd call it consciousness and cognition in their varied forms, from hive intelligence to human psychology and neuropsychiatry to machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in the above topics, and what could be more interesting (I'm biased, being a
Sep 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Three and a half stars, really. Consistently good writing but not consistently interesting to me, which is likely to happen with any collection of writing on science and nature. The essays that I enjoyed the most were the ones about octopuses and bitcoins.
Amanda Valenti
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I did not enjoy this selection as much as those from previous years but there were still a lot of interesting articles.
Scott Bilodeau
Feb 09, 2020 rated it liked it
What drew me to this book was how it was divided. There are sections on bacteria and microorganisms, animals, humans (the good), humans (the bad), society and environment, and technology. I’ve always fancied myself a pseudo-scientist or at least an admirer of science and throw in nature, or the nature of things, and I’m that much more interested. Although writers scientists usually are not so I forget how these writings tend to be a bit more laborious. The author Brian Greene is one of the few s ...more
Mar 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Not all of this writing is really so great, especially the intro (cringe), but I liked it overall, and I like reading things like this in general
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting, mostly, and all well written; which is what one hopes for in scientific writing, but not what one always gets. Have to admit to having glazed over on both the technology articles.
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Of the two dozen stories, seven deserve special attention. ... Two articles deal with cities and urban phenomena. Three articles deal with the human brain, another with that of the octopus.

Crush Point
— Crowds as part of urban life.
— Mob psychology, crowd surges, crowd management.

The City Solution
— What cities do well and right.
— City dwellers tread lighter than their rural and suburban counterparts.
— "Get the transportation right, then let things happen," said Peter Hall, planner and historian
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
Ariely’s selections as Guest Editor for this 2012 Best American Series intrigue and electrify. Unfortunately, Ariely selected writing by three times as many men as women, which calls into question not the quality and quantity of science and nature writing by women today, but the objectivity of those in power in the field to publish and commend the best of it. The collection, arranged in six parts—Bacteria and Microorganisms, Animals, Humans (good and bad), Society and Environment, and Technology ...more
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
I love this series, but this edition was disappointing. It's simply wandering too far from its roots. When the first edition of The Best American SCIENCE AND NATURE Writing came out in 2000, David Quammen was the guest editor – an actual “science and nature writer”. The next year it was E.O. Wilson. Close enough. But the farther they get from the original hatching of the idea, the farther the guest editors get from the science and nature writing theme. This year? Dan Ariely, a behavioral economi ...more
Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Some thoughts. My computer has been broken for two or more months so I've been doing all my entries on a smart phone, which is a pain. So now it's fixed and I'm still typing on a phone

I had to go out of town the week before Christmas and had three days to get my act together before the day. Had a real nice visit with friends on the day, but on the two hour drive home I realized I was sick. The point of this is I had little time to read on my trip and too disoriented while sick to focus on a pag
Angie Boyter
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
"It was the best of the series; it was the worst of the series...." I have enjoyed this series for years. It features a guest editor, a prominent science writer or scientist who writes for the general public, who picks his or her of the science articles from publications for the general reader, under the general direction of the series editor, Tim Folger. It normally includes a very broad selection of topics in science and nature.
This year Dan Ariely broke with tradition and has organized his se
Billie Pritchett
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: basnw
Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012 gets a three out of five, and not more, because I don't think many of the pieces were that memorable. That might say more about my memory rather than the editors' selection, so take this review however you'd like. Some of the pieces I do remember that were fascinating were the following:

This whole "bitcoin" thing, where an anonymous guy made his own currency online and then got people interested in investing in it raises all sorts of new questions ab
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature, science
As with all such collections of essays, even "Best ofs", there are those that will strike your fancy and those that won't. A distinct lack of astronomy for those interested in those topics.

My favorite pieces involved:
1) An overview of eczema
2) The intelligence of octopi
3) Our increasing knowledge of brain chemistry and how this impacts the law
4) The science of crowd behavior dynamics
5) The Turing Test

The other essays dealt with:
1) Bacteria in the body
2) The rise of childhood allergies
3) The hist
Mar 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
The majority of the individual pieces are pretty well-written and a handful of them quite intriguing. However, they don't stick together well as a compilation, making them less gripping in a book format. My primary expectation from this book was to have a good overview about different "sizzling" current topics and my hope was that good writing would make this process enjoyable. However, with the general disconnect between topics, it failed to sustain my interest. I could not gather much when I t ...more
Nov 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
First I need to state that I didn't read every essay in this collection. I spent the past few months skipping around and only reading the ones that caught my interest, so I find it very difficult to rate this collection as a whole. Some of the ones that stand out in my memory include The Peanut Puzzle by Jerome Groopman and The Long, Curious, Extravagant Evolution of Feathers by Carl Zimmer, but by far the best essay in this collection was Deep Intellect, by Sy Montgomery. If I was rating the e ...more
Tim Anderson
Mar 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I actually like the writing and would give it 4 stars but the ebook is poorly constructed so that it can't be read in "night mode." In night mode, every page is blank. I think the problem is that they are "hardcoding" the font color to be black so that then if the reader changes the background to black, everything disappears.

It is equivalent to buying a paperback book and finding out that the pages are printed such that they can't be read outdoors.

Sure, the author and publisher should be allowe
Jun 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
I look forward to this collection every year and as usual, 2012 does not disappoint. Recommended wholeheartedly.

*Viewed from the perspective of most of its inhabitants, your body is not so much the temple and vessel of the human soul as it is a complex ambulatory feeding mechanism for a methane reactor in your small intestine.* Brendan Buhler, The Teeming Metropolis of You

*Then she went to college and landed her first "real" job: ridgidly procedural data entry. She thought back longinly to her b
Nov 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-issues
I continue to enjoy this series because the articles don't focus on one particular area of science. This particular collection was light on the nature side, but it includes some interesting sections on microorganisms and computers. Although I am no closer to understanding quantum computers than I was before I read "Dream Machines," other articles always compensate for those that don't pique my interest. The final article of this collection (about artificial intelligence) was one of the best, so ...more
I don't read this series regularly, but I'm glad I picked this one up. The stories are organized into six sections (bacteria/microorganisms, animals, humans (the good), humans (the bad), society and environment, technology). I thought the stories about links between the bacteria that live in/on us and our health were the most interesting, but there's something in there for everyone (and Eagleman's article on how to deal with how understanding the brain (i.e., the mind) complicates legal definiti ...more
May 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed most of the science articles in this collection, but it was clear that Dan Ariely's personal interests in behavioral economics heavily influenced which articles he chose to include in this book. At first, I was a little bothered by that. I felt ripped off because none of the articles in the book discussed an issue relating to astronomy, an area of science that I find fascinating. But as I continued to read the various articles, I realized that each one had something very importa ...more
Jul 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I love the Best American Science and Nature series. The articles they choose are almost always fascinating. Sometimes the science is a little suspicious, but as quick entertaining bits before bed they cannot be beaten. In this volume, the only story that I thought was a dud was the story on nano-Computers. Other than that there is Vat Meat, the food obsessed former Microsoft guy and his 1000000 page book on molecular gastronomy, a guy trying to reverse engineer a dinosaur from chickens, and all ...more
Feb 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Aside from David Eagleman's utterly creepy article on brain development in, for instance, mass killers and a couple of others about our body's bacterial ecosystems nothing here that was particularly memorable---though the general quality of the writing and thinking seemed above average. It is notable, I think, to see how many of the entries came from the New Yorker rather than a science or tech magazine. ...more
May 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hard-sciences
As usual, a series of fun and informative essays spanning the last year in science. These tended more towards human-centric stuff (Ariely's bent, as a social scientist), with some of the essays being no more than profiles of prominent scientists (interesting as they were!). As a social scientist and familiar with Ariely's work, I actually felt like I didn't learn too much with this collection. But it did push me a bit, and it was just plain interesting overall. ...more
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From Wikipedia:

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University. He also holds an appointment at the MIT Media Lab where he is the head of the eRationality research group. He was formerly the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT Sloan School of Management.

Dan Ariely grew up in Israel after birth in New York. He served in the Israeli army and

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