The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012

Overview

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. ...

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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012

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Overview

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. This unique system has made the Best American series the most respected — and most popular — of its kind.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012 includes

JEROME GROOPMAN, SY MONTGOMERY, MICHAEL BEHAR, DEBORAH BLUM, THOMAS GOETZ, DAVID EAGLEMAN, RIVKA GALCHEN, DAVID KIRBY, and others

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Editorial Reviews

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One article co-written by Dan Ariely, this book's editor, is pointedly titled, "The Tree of Experience in the Forest of Information." That phrase might serve as the epigraph for this new installment of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's science and nature annual. With its diverse contents, this 320-page paperback and NOOK Book original serves as a worthy installment of a popular series that has been winning readers since 2000. Easy to recommend.

Publishers Weekly
Guest editor Ariely's selections the latest series installment intrigue and electrify, and the collection, arranged in six parts—Bacteria and Microorganisms, Animals, Humans (good and bad), Society and Environment, and Technology—intermixes contemporary concerns with futuristic possibilities. Essays such as Jerome Groopman's "The Peanut Puzzle," Sy Montgomery's "Deep intellect," and Michael Behar's "Faster. Higher. Squeakier." explore topics present in the national discourse, like the cause of allergies and their remediation, the extent of animal intelligence, and the role of performance enhancing drugs. Alongside these timely essays sit prescient pieces about cryptography and virtual-but-veritable currencies, the reach of artificial intelligence, and the underexplored microbial world. Collectively, this year's selections present existential questions and ethical dilemmas without moralizing or answering the queries: Are we smarter than machines? What is unique about human intelligence? Can we feed burgeoning populations with lab-grown meat? 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. Nevertheless, this strong collection invites awe, begets wonder, and stimulates contemplation. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
Ariely (Psychology and Behavioral Economics/Duke Univ.; The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves, 2012, etc.) presents a smorgasbord of top-notch science writing covering everything from the 1,000 species in the human gut to efforts to reverse-evolve a chicken into a dinosaur. The two dozen pieces reflect the conclusion that "we are extraordinary yet flawed and predictably irrational creatures." This is certainly the case in John Seabrook's account of crowd disasters, including the 2008 "Black Friday" crush at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, Long Island, and in Jason Daley's exploration of our human tendency in gauging risk to "focus on the one-in-a-million bogeyman while virtually ignoring the true risks that inhabit our world." The many other topics include allergies, marauder ants, lab-grown meat, airborne contaminants, the adolescent brain, the intelligence of octopuses and the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome. Most of the essays combine lucid summaries of current research with vivid descriptions of the lives and goals of scientists from molecular biologists to paleontologists. The fact that many pieces come from nonspecialist magazines underscores the extent to which science now informs all aspects of modern life. Especially intriguing: Michael Roberts' report from Outside on a young biologist's efforts to spur increased conservation efforts by building on the calming effects many people feel in the presence of the ocean and Brian Christian's revealing Atlantic account of the Turing Test and an annual event at which humans compete with artificial intelligence programs. Other contributors include Jerome Groopman, Rivka Galchen and Elizabeth Kolbert. A showcase for clean, plain-English science and nature writing and a treat for readers.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely , author of The Upside of Irrationality and Predictably Irrational , is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.

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

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Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Introduction xiv

Part 1 Bacteria/Microorganisms

The Teeming Metropolis of You: from California Magazine Brendan Buhler 3

Our Body the Ecosystem: from Popular Science Virginia Hughes 8

The Peanut Puzzle: from The New Yorker Jerome Groopman 16

Part 2 Animals

The Long, Curious, Extravagant Evolution of Feathers: from National Geographic Carl Zimmer 29

How to Hatch a Dinosaur: from Wired Thomas Hayden 35

Faster. Higher. Squeakier.: from Outside Michael Behar 44

Trivedi. The Wipeout Gene: from Scientific American Bijal P 53

Deep Intellect: from Orion SY Montgomery 65

Moffett. Ants & the Art of War: from Scientific American Mark W 78

Part 3 Humans (the Good)

The Scent of Your Thoughts: from Scientific American Deborah Blum 89

Sleeping with the Enemy: from The New Yorker Elizabeth Kolbert 97

The Touchy-Feely (but Totally Scientific!) Methods of Wallace J. Nichols: from Outside Michael Roberts 119

Part 4 Humans (the Bad)

The Feedback Loop: from Wired Thomas Goetz 131

What You Don't Know Can Kill You: from Discover Jason Daley 145

Beautiful Brains: from National Geographic David Dobbs 156

The Brain on Trial: from The Atlantic David Eagleman 167

Part 5 Society and Environment

Crush Point: from The New Yorker John Seabrook 189

Ill Wind: from Discover David Kirby 206

The City Solution: from National Geographic Robert Kunzig 217

Part 6 Technology

Test-Tube Burgers: from The New Yorker Michael Specter 229

Mad Science: from Wired Mark McClusky 245

Dream Machine: from The New Yorker Rivka Galchen 258

The Crypto-Currency: from The New Yorker Joshua Davis 276

Mind vs. Machine: from The Atlantic Brian Christian 289

Contributors' Notes 315

Other Notable Science and Nature Writing of 2011 321

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