Freeman Dyson, renowned physicist and public intellectual, edits this year’s volume of the finest science and nature writing.
The latest addition to this uniformly excellent series, edited by renowned physicist Dyson, does not disappoint. Dyson showcases 28 essays covering astronomy and cosmology, neurology, nature writing, and three sections loosely organized on the environment. Some are more optimistic than others that environmental disaster might be averted. Many standout pieces describe the cutting edges of science, such as a strong piece by Kathleen McGowan in the neurology section on reprogramming memory and efforts to reduce the ruinous impact of PTSD. The nature section includes an essay by Don Stap on the kuaka, an astonishing bird that travels 7,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean in eight days without stopping or eating, and there is an arresting essay by Brian Boyd that ponders the evolutionary value of art and science, concluding that natural selection is evolution toward a purpose-driven life. Each of the authors many familiar to readers of publications such as the New Yorker (from which Elizabeth Kolbert merits two entries) and the New York Review of Books writes clearly, on occasion elegantly, and often with a contagious passion.