Monday, July 23, 2012

Scientific Wonders

One of my favorite beach books this year was The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011, edited by Mary Roach.  This book, a part of the "Best American series" published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt each year, has been a staple for me now for over fifteen years.  These volumes provide a wonderful overview of the past-year's "best" work published in several genres:  essays, short stories, mysteries, etc.

And as for Mary Roach, editor of this most current science volume, I have read all of her quirky science and can't wait for her next arrival.  Any plans, Mary?

In this anthology, Roach has selected a wide-range of scientific essays and profiles, both hard and soft, and among my favorites were essays written by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, in which these two scientists recite the reasons they believe a "theory of everything" will never be discovered.  Although scientific, this brief essay, less than 2000 words I believe, reads equally well as theology or science and has many implications for belief in the unseen and the unknowable.

I also enjoyed George Musser's "Could Time End?", first published in the Scientific American, and Tim Zimmermann's excellent reportage piece, "The Killer in the Pool", in which he dissects the growing trend among "captive" and "performing" killer whales to . . . well, kill.  His piece makes a strong case supporting evidence that killer whales cannot be domesticed nor "trained" to perform with human handlers. But if someone wants to stick his head inside an orca's mouth and roll the dice . . . more power to him.  And prayer.

I always enjoy these scientific pieces, even though I don't understand most of the science.  But great science writing should be celebrated, and these pieces at least take academia out of the classroom of boring lectures and give them some readable voice and some wings.

Good read.  And now I shelve another volume in this series . . . which, at my last count, was over 55 spines hunkered down on the top floor of my home library.  Keep 'em coming . . . . 

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