The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing by Richard Dawkins
|The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing by Richard Dawkins
|Category: Popular Science
|Reviewer: Magda Healey
|Summary: A collection of shining examples from the last 100 years, demonstrating how exhilarating and enjoyable the best science writing can be. One to dip in and savour in small doses at your leisure, it comes recommended for all even mildly interested in science and/or lovers of anthologies in general.
|Date: March 2008
|Publisher: Oxford University Press
Popular science is a huge field nowadays, populated by both writers who turn to science and scientists who took to writing. The collection I have the pleasure of reviewing contains samples of writing by scientists, most of it at least illuminating, some truly excellent.
The whole book and each of the excerpts are introduced by Richard Dawkins (this more than makes up for the fact that none of his works are included), one of the masters of writing about science in a manner that manges to both be accessible and maintain standards without oversimplification or dumbing down.
The collection covers the last 100 years only. I have seen several science writing collections half-filled with venerable classics, but there has been so much new development that I was very grateful for that and in fact, wishing that it was 50 and not 100 years.
The collection applies the English definition of the term science and thus covers mostly hard science disciplines: natural sciences, a little mathematics, the cognitive sciences and science in general (but not, as such, and mercifully so, philosophy or sociology of science).
The pieces are ordered neither chronologically, nor by name nor by, strictly speaking, the science the writer practised. Instead, they are grouped by a very vague theme into sections supposedly dealing with what scientists study, think, delight in and who they are.
I can't praise this collection highly enough: even though I am not very fond of anthologies as such, I think this one is such a rich chest of wondrous treasures that it transcends both the limits of the anthology format and the limits of popular science writing with its slightly geeky image.
There are big names and less well known ones, there are classics and newer arrivals, from Albert Einstein to Richard Feynman, from Francis Crick to Stephen Jay Gould, from Rachel Carson to Steven Pinker, Primo Levi to Roger Penrose. If you read about science, you will be familiar with many if not all of the names, and with some of the texts, but you are bound to find some that will illuminate and make you think. If you don't read about science, it's high time you started: and this collection is as good a place to do it as they get.
For anybody who agrees with Dawkins that science and literature are the two achievements of Homo Sapiens that most convincingly justify the specific name, this collection is a convincing argument for both and a glorious link between the two.
It's not, of course, a book to read in one go, but to dip in, for inspiration and enjoyment, one or two excerpts at a time. Some pieces are rather technical and descriptive, some are meditations on philosophical implications of the scientific endeavour, some will be easy to read for any educated layperson, some will require quite a bit of concentration (none are very long though), some are cool and elegant, some argumentative and witty; but all are excellent examples of the passion that the exhilarating beauty and unending fascination that the world around and within us can evoke in the minds of people devoting their lives to understanding that world.
All will make you think.
Highly, highly recommended, and not only for habitual readers of popular science.
Thanks to the good people at OUP for putting the anthology together and sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If you don't feel ready to face this title, or are looking for something more topical, try What is Your Dangerous Idea? by John Brockman, but if you're looking for the accessible (if rather chattily styled) intro to the basics, try The Canon by Natalie Angier
The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing by Richard Dawkins is in the List Of Books To Celebrate Charles Darwin's 200th Anniversary.
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