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Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004

Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004
Steven Pinker (editor)
Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: 

paper, 240 p., $14.00

This is a great book to read when you have only 20 or 30 minutes to spare. Pinker has chosen a wonderful variety of short stories. It’s like having a buffet of delectable plates from which to choose, some substantial, others lighter. In the Introduction, Pinker mentions the "interconnectedness of all knowledge," and reminds us that Horace stated that the purpose of literature was "to delight and instruct." I have always enjoyed Pinker’s writing and his selections here bear out his original thinking. As he states, his "choices are slanted towards human behavior, and their methods shade into the social sciences."

Every one of the short stories is provocative. "The Cousin Marriage Conundrum" brings up the question of how inbreeding due to first cousin marriages in the Muslim world is little understood and greatly "underappreciated in Western analyses of Middle Eastern politics." Then there are intriguing titles such as "Fearing the Worst Should Anyone Produce a Cloned Baby," "Caring for Your Introvert," "In Click Language, an Echo of the Tongues of Ancients" and "A Prolific Genghis Khan It Seems Helped People the World."

My brother–in–law was visiting for a week and picked this book up the first day he arrived. Every day for the rest of the week, I would see him reading one of two more stories, skipping among the titles and thoroughly enjoying every one. It’s that kind of book and makes a perfect companion for commuter trips or waiting in a doctor’s office. Measuring just over a few hundred pages, it’s easy to slip into your pocket or purse for a quick, entertaining and educational read.

— Joan Richards, volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden