Twice-Sold Tales

William Cannon in American Scientist:

The_Oxford_Book_of_Modern_Science_Writing THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2008. Edited by Jerome Groopman. Series editor, Tim Folger. xx + 330 pp. Houghton Mifflin, 2008. $14 paper.

THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE WRITING 2008. Edited by Sylvia Nasar. Series editor, Jesse Cohen. xvi + 316 pp. Harper Perennial, 2008. $14.95 paper.

THE OXFORD BOOK OF MODERN SCIENCE WRITING. Edited by Richard Dawkins. xviii + 419 pp. Oxford University Press, 2008. $34.95.

People unlucky enough to have been born with the rare genetic disorder Lesch-Nyhan syndrome (nearly all are male) live in fear of attacking themselves uncontrollably with their own hands and teeth. Gifted science journalist Richard Preston gives voice to their otherwise silent suffering in “An Error in the Code,” an article from The New Yorker that is included in The Best American Science Writing 2008. Preston introduces us to two Lesch-Nyhan patients he has befriended who have bitten off their lips, chewed their fingers to the bone and attempted to rip off their noses. I was so riveted by the details of their stories that I was barely aware that I was learning science as I read.

I was less enthralled by the rest of this anthology. Its editor, Sylvia Nasar (the author of A Beautiful Mind), teaches journalism at Columbia and was once an economics correspondent for the New York Times. So it should perhaps come as no surprise that in this collection of articles from 2007 she focuses on “what was in the news and on people’s minds” that year (health and the environment, she says, not math and physics). Many of the articles concern medicine, health policy and the shenanigans of the pharmaceutical industry. The reporting is first-rate and powerfully documented. But by and large, storytelling like Preston’s is difficult to find in these pages.

Not so for The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008, edited by Jerome Groopman. Groopman’s collection is more eclectic than Nasar’s and is a far better book.

More here. [I have Dawkins' book and it is indeed a brilliant collection.]