The Best American Science & Nature Writing 2004
Steven Pinker ed.
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Buy *The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004* online

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004
Steven Pinker, ed.
Houghton Mifflin
240 pages
October 2004
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Edited by renowned Harvard academic Steven Pinker, this anthology showcases the finest of last year’s writings on science and nature. Selected from hundreds of magazines and periodicals and ranging in subject matter from physics to politics, these pieces unfailingly touch both an academic and entertaining chord.

In his Foreword, series editor Tim Folger tells us “Common sense is much overrated as a virtue. The defenders of a flat Earth invoked it. No doubt Galileo’s inquisitors appealed to it as well. So did critics of the Wright brothers, right up to the first flight just over a century ago. When it comes to understanding the universe, the history of science shows common sense to be a most unreliable guide”. Golden words these, and nowhere is their wisdom more apparent than when this collection unfolds.

Who would have thought that octopuses (octopuses?!) resemble us in more ways than we can ever imagine in terms of cognitive and social behavior. "Through the Eye of an Octopus" tells us that the more stimulating their environment (with other creatures and games, etc., thrown in), the more intelligent their response. Another piece of the unbelievable is "Parallel Universes" where famous cosmologist Max Tegmark states that “in infinite space, even the most unlikely events must take place somewhere.” If this makes you shake our head in disbelief here’s more. “The simplest and most popular cosmological model today,” says Tegmark, “predicts that you have a twin in a galaxy about 10 to 1028 meters from here. The distance is so large that it is beyond astronomical, but that does not make your doppelganger any less real.”

If all this makes you feel that the collection is only for serious minded nerdy junta, think again. There are articles on birds ("Ask the Bird Folks"), baby-naming trends ("Where Have All the Lisa’s Gone"), marrying within the family ("The Cousin Marriage Conundrum") besides stern lessons in grammar ("The Bloody Crossroads of Grammar"). The fear factor looms large, too, with the worst news on obesity, cloning and bugs in the brain.

Pinker’s choice of subjects and the individual selections complement one another to form a wonderful and enjoyable reading experience. Highly recommended, this showcase is contemporary scientific writing at its very best. Read it before your other twin in the next universe gets his metaphysical hand on it!

© 2005 by Shampa Chatterjee for

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