Brett Williams's Reviews > The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2010

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2010 by Freeman Dyson
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A condensation of gems.

Let someone else sift wheat from chaff and you garnish the benefits. What’s fun about this book is that from many articles, the best are compiled for easy access. In this case, 28 are selected from 122 options. Years of research can be boiled down to a single stunning realization. What is well known in narrow fields of study are revealed here for the rest of us. And it’s those little morsels we carry around. Timothy Ferris (who can’t seem – even once - to write a bad essay) reports about “Seeking New Earths” and the “red edge produced when chlorophyll-containing photosynthetic plants reflect red light” on distant worlds. Such a long range fingerprint would be one of the greatest discoveries in the record of our species. Kathleen McGowan tells how flimsy our memories are, because each time we access them, we also destabilize them, tweaking the memory each time. (Though memories of, say scientific theories or data, seem immutable, perhaps because nature is always there for correction.) With this in mind it answers the question how some people truly can believe the lies they tell. Over time and repetition they’ve reordered the synapses, such that the film they play in their head really is the lie they built. We learn about the record setting, 8-day, 200-hour, non-stop airborne flight of the bar-tailed godwit, whose population (as with other migratory birds) is collapsing because humans are draining their estuaries round the globe as coastal “improvements.” We learn about how modern genetics continues to verify Darwin’s theory (fact) of evolution, as well as its frightening offspring of “synthetic biology” where humans build new life forms a molecule at a time; the superior civilization of ants and their amazing behavior completely ignored when squishing one of them on the countertop; the heroic efforts of NASA climatologist James Hansen and his efforts to communicate to politicians incapable of seeing past today’s dollar. Perhaps the most amazing and insightful ideas comes from Brian Boyd in his “Purpose Driven Life” originally from The American Scholar.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 17, 2014 – Shelved

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