Author: Deborah Blum, Tim Folger
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Summary: A fantastic collection of essays! All were well written, the science ones were very accessible, and a surprisingly large number were relevant to daily life.
The Best American Science and Nature Writing collection is published every year to showcase exemplary popular science and nature essays. This year’s guest editor was Deborah Blum, who you might know as the author of The Poisoner’s Handbook. Contributors you might recognize include Barbara Kingsolver (author of The Poisonwood Bible) and E. O. Wilson (author of The Social Conquest of Earth).
There were several aspects of this collection which really impressed me. First, the majority of the essays were about science and almost all of them were about science which people interact with on a daily basis. Of particular interest to readers was an essay on the merits of reading in print versus reading on a screen. Other particularly relevant and fascinating essays covered global warming; the use of genetic engineering to save oranges from disease; the way TV shows can lead to social change; and the failure of antibiotics. Second, all of these essays, even those dealing with more challenging scientific topics, were written in engaging and approachable ways. (As you can probably tell, my favorites were these science-focused essays, but I think Barbara Kingsolver’s meditation on knitting and the circle of life also deserves particular mention. Her beautiful prose blew me away.)
Another great thing about this collection was the number of essays I loved and how very few I disliked. There were a few about nature that bored me (I just don’t care that much about sheep!) or grossed me out (if you share my intense dislike of reading about animals getting hurt, definitely skip the essay on trapping!). However, these were rare exceptions in a fantastic collection. If you’re a scientist, I recommend this collection as a way to catch up with fields outside your own and as a good reminder of the way our work impacts lives. If you’re a non-scientist, but would just like to know what’s going on, this collection would be perfect for introducing you to the latest, most relevant work in a number of fields. I’m already looking forward to reading next year’s collection!