The Best American Science Writing 2000


Meticulously selected by bestselling author James Gleick, Harper Audio presents a steller collection of essays written by some of the most brilliant writers and thinkers of our time — each one read by its creator.

Many of these cutting-edge essays offer glimpses of our new realms of discovery and thought, exploring territory that is unfimiliar to most of us or finding the unexpected in the midst of the familiar. This diverse, stimulating, and accessible collection is required ...

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Meticulously selected by bestselling author James Gleick, Harper Audio presents a steller collection of essays written by some of the most brilliant writers and thinkers of our time — each one read by its creator.

Many of these cutting-edge essays offer glimpses of our new realms of discovery and thought, exploring territory that is unfimiliar to most of us or finding the unexpected in the midst of the familiar. This diverse, stimulating, and accessible collection is required for anyone who wants to travel to that frontier.

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Editorial Reviews

Alan Lightman
The Best American Science Writing 2000 is richly informative, wide-ranging, and intellectually provocative. It conveys the ongoing struggle of scientists to understand the physical world, and themselves.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Assembled by a famous name--along with a series editor who usually manages the initial sifting--annual Best American anthologies have become a useful way for busy aficionados to keep up with a year's developments in (among other areas) spiritual writing, erotica, literary essays, movie writing, poetry, and sports writing. This volume adds science writing to that list. Gleick (Faster) and series editor Jesse Cohen have put together a stellar collection of accessible scientific papers, science-related personal essays and journalistic prose about evolutionary biology, medicine, paleoanthropology, particle physics and more. A cluster of work focuses on neurology, thought and mind. Douglas Hofstadter shows why he considers "Analogy as the Core of Cognition"; Floyd Skloot sharply and movingly describes how he has coped with his own cerebral damage, which (for example) causes him to ask in a music store for "sombrero reporters," not "soprano recorders." Oliver Sacks pops up with an uncharacteristic memoir of his "Uncle Tungsten," who introduced him to the natural sciences. Physicist Francis Halzen covers the ongoing hunt for neutrinos, carried on most recently at the South Pole. And the volume opens with Atul Gawande's memorable report on medical errors, which provoked much discussion when it appeared in the New Yorker. The anthology makes a good read (and, perhaps, an even better gift). But Gleick and colleagues do draw heavily on the few most prominent venues. The New Yorker, the New York Times and its Sunday magazine,, Harper's and the New York Review of Books account for nine of 19 entries; Science, The Sciences, Scientific American and Natural History for half of the rest. People who've kept up with popular science writing during 1999 will have read half of this book already; they should give it to their busy friends and colleagues. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Edited by Pulitzer Prize nominee Gleick (Genius), this first volume of a new annual series is a delight to read, in part because it effectively counters the widely held belief that science writing is uniformly bad or dryly boring. These fascinating essays by scientists and science journalists (including Timothy Ferris, Steven Jay Gould, Steven Weinberg, and Natalie Angier) are, in turn, mesmerizing, exciting, and dramatic. The articles come mostly from sources like The New Yorker, the New York Times, and Natural History, but some are from nontraditional venues like the humor journal the Onion and the online magazine Salon. Since these publications are aimed at an intelligent but not scientifically trained readership, the essays are free of the technical terms that make many scientific research articles inaccessible to the nonspecialist. Douglas Hofstadter's piece on the role of analogy in cognition is probably the most ambitious entry, and Francis Halzen's account of his search for neutrinos beneath the Antarctic ice provides a wonderful description of the vagaries, difficulties, and delights of scientific research and discovery. One of the most affecting pieces is Floyd Skoot's description of how a viral infection of his brain has damaged his mind and concept of self. Highly recommended for all libraries.--Lloyd Davidson, Seeley G. Mudd Lib. for Science & Engineering, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
— Patrick J. Brunet, Western Wisconsin Technical College Library, La Crosse
This collection of 19 recent articles from science magazines offers glimpses of new realms of discovery and thought. Physicist Steven Weinberg challenges the idea that the universe has a designer; Darwinian theorist Stephen Jay Gould makes a claim for the man whose ideas Darwin discredited; and Timothy Ferris proposes a realistic alternative to interstellar travel. Gleick is a former reporter and editor of the . His three previous popular science books have been translated into nearly 30 languages. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780694523993
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Series: Best American Science Writing Series
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 4 Cassettes
  • Product dimensions: 4.13 (w) x 7.09 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

James Gleick's three books, Chaos, Genuis,and Faster,have been translated into nearly thirty languages. Gleick, a former reporter and editor of the  New York Times,lives in New York.

Oliver Sacks is the author of nine books, including the acclaimed bestsellers The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, An Anthropolgist on Mars, and Awakenings, which inspired the Oscar-winning movie of the same name. He is clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, as well as a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and numerous medical and scientific journals.

Susan McCarthy is co-author (with Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson) of the New York Times bestseller When Elephants Weep. She holds degrees in biology and journalism, writes regularly for, and has contributed to Best American Science Writing. She lives in San Francisco.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a staff writer for The New Yorker. He is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, and he was nominated for a 2002 National Book Award for his book Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science. His new book, Better, will be coming out this spring.

Timothy Ferris's works include Seeing in the Dark, The Mind's Sky (both New York Times best books of the year), and The Whole Shebang (listed by American Scientist as one of the one hundred most influential books of the twentieth century). A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ferris has taught in five disciplines at four universities. He is an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a former editor of Rolling Stone. His articles and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, National Geographic, Scientific American, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, TheNew York Times Book Review, and many other publications. A contributor to CNN and National Public Radio, Ferris has made three prime-time PBS television specials: The Creation of the Universe, Life Beyond Earth, and Seeing in the Dark. He lives in San Francisco.

Natalie Angier is a bestselling author and a Pulitzer Prize-winning science columnist for the New York Times. She is the author of four books: Natural Obsessions; The Beauty of the Beastly; Woman: An Intimate Geography; and, most recently, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, with her husband, Rick Weiss, a science reporter for the Washington Post, and her daughter.

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Read an Excerpt

Atul Gawande

When Doctors Make Mistakes

From The New Yorker

A study released by the National Academy of Sciences in November 1999 reported that medical errors caused between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths a year. Congress held hearings to investigate its findings and President Clinton ordered hospitals to monitor errors and report them to a federal agency. Months before, readers of The New Yorker were introduced to the subject through the courageous reporting of a young surgical resident. Atul Gawande's bracing first -person account of life-and-death decision-making in the emergency room puts a human face on this complex and urgent issue.

I--Crash Victim

At 2 A.M. on a crisp Friday in winter, I was in sterile gloves and gown, pulling a teenage knifing victim's abdomen open, when my pager ded "Code Trauma, three minutes," the operating-room nurse sounded. said, reading aloud from my pager display. This meant that an ambulance would be bringing another trauma patient to the hospital momentarily, and, as the surgical resident on duty for emergencies, I would have to be present for the patient's arrival. I stepped back from the table and took off my gown. Two other surgeons were working on the knifing victim: Michael Ball, the attending (the staff surgeon in charge of the case), and David Hernandez, the chief resident (a general surgeon in his last of five years of training). Ordinarily, these two would have come later to help with the trauma, but they were stuck here. Ball, a dry, imperturbable forty-two-year-old Texan, looked over to me as I headed for the door. "If you run into any trouble, you call, andone of us will peel away," he said.

I did run into trouble. In telling this story, I have had to change significant details about what happened (including the names of the participants and aspects of my role), but I have tried to stay as close to the actual events as I could while protecting the patient, myself, and the rest of the staff. The way that things go wrong in medicine is normally unseen and, consequently, often misunderstood. Mistakes do happen. We think of them as aberrant; they are anything but.

The emergency room was one floor up, and, taking the stairs two at a time, I arrived just as the emergency medical technicians wheeled in a woman who appeared to be in her thirties and to weigh more than two hundred pounds. She lay motionless on a hard orange plastic spinal board-eyes closed, skin pale, blood running out of her nose. A nurse directed the crew into Trauma Bay 1 an examination room outfitted like an O.R., with green tiles on the wall, monitoring devices, and space for portable X-ray equipment. We lifted her onto the bed and then went to work. One nurse began cutting off the woman's clothes. Another took vital signs. A third inserted a large-bore intravenous line into her right arm. A surgical intern put a Foley catheter into her bladder. The emergency-medicine attending was Samuel Johns, a gaunt, Ichabod Crane-like man in his fifties. He was standing to one side with his arms crossed, observing, which was a sign that I could go ahead and take charge.

If you're in a hospital, most of the "moment to moment" doctoring you get is from residents--physicians receiving specialty training and a small income in exchange for their labor. Our responsibilities depend on our level of training, but we're never entirely on our own: there's always an attending, who oversees our decisions. That night, since Johns was the attending and was responsible for the patient's immediate management, I took my lead from him. But he wasn't a surgeon, and so he relied on me for surgical expertise.

"What's the story?" I asked.

An E.M.T. rattled off the details: "Unidentified white female unrestrained driver in high-speed rollover. Ejected from the car. Found unresponsive to pain. Pulse a hundred, B.P. a hundred over sixty, breathing at thirty on her own.

As he spoke, I began examining her. The first step in caring for a trauma patient is always the same. It doesn't matter if a person has been shot eleven times or crushed by a truck or burned in a kitchen fire. The first thing you do is make sure that the patient can breathe without difficulty. This woman's breaths were shallow and rapid. An oximeter, by means of a sensor placed on her finger, measured the oxygen saturation of her blood. The "O2 sat" is normally more than ninety-five percent for a patient breathing room air. The woman was wearing a face mask with oxygen turned up full blast, and her sat was only ninety percent.

"She's not oxygenating well I announced in the flattened-out, wake-meup-when-something-interesting-happens tone that all surgeons have acquired by about three months into residency. With my fingers, I verified that there wasn't any object in her mouth that would obstruct her airway; with a stethoscope, I confirmed that neither lung had collapsed. I got hold of a bag mask, pressed its clear facepiece over her nose and mouth, and squeezed the bellows, a kind of balloon with a one-way valve, shooting a litre of air into her with each compression. After a minute or so, her oxygen came up to a comfortable ninety-eight percent. She obviously needed our help with breathing. "Let's tube her," I said. That meant putting a tube down through her vocal cords and into her trachea, which would insure a clear airway and allow for mechanical ventilation.

Johns, the attending, wanted to do the intubation. He picked up a Mac 3 laryngoscope, a standard but fairly primitive-looking L-shaped metal instrument for prying open the mouth and throat, and slipped the shoehornlike blade deep into her mouth and down to her larynx. Then he yanked the handle up toward the ceiling to pull her tongue out of the way, open her mouth and throat, and reveal the vocal cords, which sit like fleshy tent flaps at the entrance to the trachea. The patient didn't wince or gag: she was still out cold.

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Table of Contents

Introduction vii
When Doctors Make Mistakes 1
Of Mice and Elephants: A Matter of Scale 23
Lord of the Flies 30
The Biotech Death of Jesse Gelsinger 45
Close Encounters 57
Antarctic Dreams 66
Interstellar Spaceflight: Can We Travel to Other Stars? 77
Journey to the Center of My Mind 83
Gray Area: Thinking with a Damaged Brain 95
Close Encounters: An Artist Shows That Size Affects Shape 108
Analogy as the Core of Cognition 116
Revolutionary New Insoles Combine Five Forms of Pseudoscience 145
Brilliant Light 147
Lab Notes 157
Furs for Evening, but Cloth Was the Stone Age Standby 172
A Division of Worms 178
Must Dog Eat Dog? 205
Einstein's Clocks: The Place of Time 213
A Designer Universe? 239
About the Contributors 249
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