The Best American Science Writing 2007 (review: 3/5)

best american science writing 2007
I usually like these annual collections because I can sample a bunch of authors I don’t know writing about topics I’m not too familiar with in periodicals I haven’t read much. The Best American Science Writing 2007 comes up a bit short on all counts, but here are the ones I liked…

A clear favorite for me is Atul Gawande‘s article about the childbirth industry, The Score. Women used to die in labor at amazing rates. Even in the 1930s about 1 of every 150 mothers died. But ever since Virginia Apgar invented what’s now known as the Apgar score—basically a 0-10 rating on how healthy a baby comes out, based on the first 5 minutes of observation—mortality rates for parent and child have dropped steadily. Gawande talks in kind of squeamish, horrifying detail about how delivering babies has changed and the different technologies (prayer, forceps, C-sections) and maneuvers that we’ve developed. It’s really great. I almost never like writing about biology or medicine, but looking at list of Gawande’s writing on his website, it turns out I’ve enjoyed just about all of his that I read.

My next favorite is Being There. Imagine for a second your spouse or parent or sibling or friend were dying. Like right now. In the emergency room. Would you want to be there as doctors tried to resuscitate him? And should the hospital allow you to watch what is usually a stressful, brutal, and unsuccessful effort? Jerome Groopman writes about the dilemma of “family presence,” and it’s one of those things that’s just cool to read about because I’d never thought much about it before.

Yes, that’s 2 (two) medicine-related articles that I enjoyed.

Manifold Destiny was a cool article about the reclusive Grigori Perlman, the guy who proved the Poincar?© conjecture and thereby dismissed a problem that mainstream mathematicians had been working on for a century. There’s some cool personalities and professional intrigue here, and it was a nice break from the bio/ medicine/ health/ human interest articles in the rest of the book. Written by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber.

Lastly, Oliver Sacks wrote Stereo Sue, a woman who didn’t have binocular vision, so everything looked flat. After surgery and some long-term eye therapy, she finally started to see fully in three dimensions:

I went back to my car and happened to glance at the steering wheel. It had ‘popped out’ from the dashboard. I closed one eye, then the other, then looked with both eyes again, and the steering wheel looked different. I decided that the light from the setting sun was playing tricks on me and drove home. But the next day I got up, did the eye exercises, and got into the car to drive to work. When I looked at the rear-view mirror, it had popped out from the windshield.


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