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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007

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Overview

"Science is about not knowing and wanting badly to know. Science is about flawed and complicated human beings trying to use whatever tools they've got, along with their minds, to see something strange and new. In that sense, writing about science is just another way of writing about the human condition."—from the introduction by Richard Preston

The twenty-eight pieces in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007 span a wide range of topics, from the farthest reaches of space to the everyday world around us to the secrets hiddin in our own bodies. Michael Lemonick travels to an extinct volcano in Hawaii, where telescopes at the summit are providing researchers with a glimpse of the most distant galaxy ever seen—and profound new insights into the creation of the universe. Neil deGrasse Tyson takes a sharp, witty look at Americans' delirium over space travel. And with surgical precision Michael Perry describes how a medical autopsy is performed. Dead men can tell tales.

Here we also see examinations of the sometimes harmful impact of science on the natural world. Susan Casey gives an alarming portrait of plastic waste pollution in the world's oceans, including a dead zone in the mid-Pacific that's twice the size of Texas. Michael Shnayerson heads to West Virginia, where the Appalachians are being blasted at the rate of several ridgetops a week, all in the pursuit of ever-elusive coal. And Paul Bennett goes deep beneath Rome's streets, where cutting-edge excavation techniques are revealing newfound treasures in one of the world's oldest cities.

A profile of a late, distinguished British ornithologist by John Seabrook reveals that the man's personal collection of bird skins, now in the British Natural History Museum, was largely stolen or bought and intentionally mislabeled. Richard Conniff visits a former Brooklyn social worker turned primatologist who has become a fierce advocate of the lemur. And Patricia Gadsby takes us into the kitchens of Europe's finest chefs to explain how the new field of molecular gastronomy is revolutionizing fine cuisine.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618722310
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/1/2007
  • Series: Best American Science and Nature Writing Series
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 338
  • Sales rank: 1,228,908
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Preston

TIM FOLGER is a contributing editor at Discover and writes about science for several magazines.

Biography

Richard Preston is a versatile and unique writer. He's penned nonfiction and fiction, both to popular and critical acclaim. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he's written books about the vast intricacies and limitlessness of outer space; about microscopic, infinitely complex and deadly viruses; and—well before September 11—about the all-too-real threat of biological terrorism.

Preston is best known for creating a media frenzy and subsequent shockwave of terror in 1994 with his critically acclaimed, No. 1 New York Times bestseller, The Hot Zone. In a gripping, narrative style, The Hot Zone, relates a gripping true tale: In late 1989 in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., strands of the Ebola virus were found in the carcass of recently imported monkey from Africa. The book recounts the heroic efforts of soldiers and scientists as they attempted to avert a deadly outbreak of the virus, which is highly contagious and reputedly kills 90 percent of those it infects. Stephen King called it "one of the most horrifying things I've ever read."

The Hot Zone succeeded, not solely because the story was infectiously compelling and masterfully told, but because it was chilling to the bone. People were genuinely frightened. Everyone wanted to know, "Can this actually happen?" and "Are we really prepared if it does?"

Preston's next project, The Cobra Event, still has readers asking these same questions. The amazing achievement here: It's a work of fiction. About a biological terror attack on New York City, the plausibility of such a scenario is now, in our post-9/11 world, even more believable and scary. In fact, when then-President Bill Clinton read The Cobra Event, he was horrified. The New York Times reported: "Mr. Clinton was so alarmed by The Cobra Event that he instructed intelligence experts to evaluate its credibility." Preston recalled in a magazine interview: "So I get this frantic series of calls on my answering machine; 'Newt Gingrich is trying to reach you. He's been instructed by the President to call you and get your advice.' So I think, right, sure. But I end up talking with Gingrich for quite some time about biological terrorism." Preston has since appeared before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism & Government Information and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Chemical and Biological Weapons Threats to America.

Of The Cobra Event,Newsweek wrote, "…Preston has inadvertently created a new hybrid of fact and fiction…" Inadvertent or not, Preston's almost indistinguishable blending of fact and fiction makes for a great read. Like his nonfiction, the characters are highly developed and the pacing is swift. And the fear factor: intense long after the last page is read.

Like fellow nonfiction writers Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down) and Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air) and novelist Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Timeline, etc.), Preston has perfected the art of character. Science provides the backdrop to his work, but it never gets in the way of the story. After all, he's not a scientist. "I'm a writer, pure and simple," Preston once said. "I write about people."

Good To Know

An asteroid is named after Richard Preston. Called Asteroid Preston, it is approximately 3-5 miles across, and could actually collide with Mars—or Earth!—in approximately 100,00 years.

The Hot Zone inspired the 1995 hit movie Outbreak, which attracted an all-star cast led by Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Donald Sutherland. The actual film version of Preston's book never got made; it stalled, and the competing project that became Outbreak was the one that made it to theaters.

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    1. Hometown:
      Hopewell, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 5, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cambridge, Massachusetts
    1. Education:
      B.A., Pomona College, 1976; Ph.D. in English, Princeton University, 1983
    2. Website:

Table of Contents


Foreword     x
Introduction   Richard Preston     xiii
In Rome's Basement: from National Geographic     1
Plastic Ocean: from Best Life     9
For the Love of Lemurs: from Smithsonian     21
The Rabbit on Mars: from Isotope     31
Fishering: from Ecotone     34
Dinosaur Shocker!: from Smithsonian     36
Cooking for Eggheads: from Discover     43
Cyber-Neologoliferation: from The New York Times Magazine     51
The Final Frontier: from Discover     60
How to Get a Nuclear Bomb: from The Atlantic Monthly     71
The Effeminate Sheep: from Seed     97
Let There Be Light: from Time     105
The Nature of Violence: from Orion     115
The Germs of Life: from Orion     123
Neanderthal Man: from Smithsonian     127
Health Secrets from the Morgue: from Men's Health     135
Hitler's Willing Archaeologists: from Archaeology     144
Sex, Lies, and Video Games: from The Atlantic Monthly     153
The Flu Hunter: from Smithsonian     169
Notes on the Space We Take: from Ninth Letter     178
The Olfactory Lives of Primates: from The Virginia Quarterly Review     186
Ruffled Feathers: from The New Yorker     191
In the Company of Bears: from Anchorage Press     213
The Rape of Appalachia: from Vanity Fair     228
First Soldier of the Gene Wars: from Archaeology     249
A Plan to Keep Carbon in Check: from Scientific American     259
Delusions of Space Enthusiasts: from Natural History     268
DNA Is Not Destiny: from Discover     276
Contributors' Notes     291
Other Notable Science and Nature Writing of 2006     298
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