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Boasting almost one hundred pieces The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing is a breathtaking celebration of the finest writing by scientists the best such collection in print packed with scintillating essays on everything from The Discovery of Lucy to The Terror and Vastness of the UniverseEdited by best selling author and renowned scientist Richard Dawkins this sterling collection brings together exhilarating pieces by a who's who of scientists and science writers including Stephen Pinker Stephen Jay Gould Martin Gardner Albert Einstein Julian Huxley and many dozens Readers will find excerpts from bestsellers such as Douglas R Hofstadter's Gödel Escher Bach Francis Crick's Life Itself Loren Eiseley's The Immense Journey Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us There are classic essays ranging from JBS Haldane's On Being the Right Size and Garrett Hardin's The Tragedy of the Commons to Alan Turing's Computing Machinery and Intelligence and Albert Einstein's famed New York Times article on Relativity And readers will also discover lesser known but engaging pieces such as Lewis Thomas's Seven Wonders of Science J Robert Oppenheimer on War and Physicists and Freeman Dyson's memoir of studying under Hans BetheA must read volume for all science buffs The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing is a rich and vibrant anthology that captures the poetry and excitement of scientific thought and discoveryOne of New Scientist's Editor's Picks for 2008


10 thoughts on “The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing

  1. says:

    I saw this in a Zurich bookstore about two weeks ago It took me about 10 seconds to conclude that this is my kind of book I was not disappointed Richard Dawkins has hit a real home run hereThis volume is chock full of some of the most interesting well written and thought provoking essays and articles you find find anywhere written by some of the best minds of the 20th and early 21st century There are articles by biologists physicists chemists psychologists and cosmologists among many others Some of these authors and writings will likely be familiar to readers who have read some of the numerous semi popular books recently written by modern scientists eg writings by Steven Hawkings and Carl Sagan will be familiar to many But others caught me for one by surpriseFor instance the volume includes an astonishing but little known essay by Albert Einstein on what he calls the cosmic religious feeling a feeling shared by many who have probed the depths of the elegant laws of the universe Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strengthOther articles express well the great humility that comes to many scientists when they grasp how small our place is in the universe and the huge amount that remains to be learnedThere are some weak spots For example I thought that the excerpt from Richard Feynman failed to grasp the cleverness of this great thinker I also wished that a few other authors had been included But all in all this is one great book Highly recommended


  2. says:

    How do you pick the best science writing of the twentieth century? Really it all comes down to a matter of opinion which almost always results in the complaint and special pleading for authors and works left on the cutting room floor I mean no geology Come on can’t we get just a little respect Richard Dawkins never the less makes the noble and very worthwhile attempt to collect some of the very best that science has to offer from the scientist themselvesThe book itself is a collection of over a hundred short passages excerpts essays and even a few poems taken from the likes of Albert Einstein Stephen Hawking Francis Crick Stephen Gould Brian Greene Jared Diamond Alan Turning Richard Feynman Carl Sagan Primo Levi the list goes on and on Just this alone would make a great collection but Dawkins also includes the men and women that contributed so much to the worlds of astronomy oceanography evolution particle physics and genetics that most and certainly I have never had the pleasure of coming across before Dawkins introduces each and every essay with a humbling and often personal anecdote informing the reader on not just who the author is but why they are important and why they deserve to be included with the ranks of the very best The book is organized into four distinct groups “What Scientists Study” “Who Scientists Are” “What Scientists Think” and “What Scientists Delight in” providing a unify theme that serves as a backdrop of the often awe inspiring essays that follow At times the essays can be a bit dry but Dawkins tries to reveal the whole spectrum that science has to offer It’s also not a light fluffy affair; some science literacy is needed because Dawkins does not shy away from the technical here I found myself doing something I love with really great non fiction works further research Not being so well versed in some of the genetics and higher mathematicsphysics I was reuired to independent research and information gathering to grasp the full meaning of that particular essay I learned so much than I ever expected The excerpts and short passages could be so tantalizing that I was sometimes left wishing for Couple that with the exposure to works by scientist I would have never come across before has caused my wishlist to implode I only wish there were collections like this one by different editors to really show off the diversity of that science has to offer


  3. says:

    Richard Dawkins has a serious claim to be the world's greatest living science writer This is a title for which there are presently claimants today than at any other era in history; popular science writing once a minor genre targeted mainly at nerdy schoolboys has burgeoned into a successful and prolific contemporary publishing industry Here Dawkins picks the cherries from the current crop but he also casts his net back a good deal further all the way to the beginning of the twentieth century This allows him to include essays and meditations by the likes of Einstein the uantum fathers and of course the leading lights of Dawkins's own field biology Biologists as a group seem to be unusually endowed with literary talent Dawkins gives us a broad selection that includes the best of the lot Niko Tinbergen and the subline JBS HaldaneThe book consists of short excerpts from other books and essays as well as a poem or two One's only wish is that the pieces were longer though that would probably have made the book unfeasibly large unless some deserving contributors were dropped The material is generally well chosen and the order in which it appears is logical without being over obviousIn the popular mind Richard Dawkins is most notorious as the author of The God Delusion and a public promoter of atheism Although than a couple of essays have a tangential relevance to this theme there is little or no direct promotion of atheism in this book For all that it is certainly a book with an agenda It strives to communicate not only the power but also the sheer fascination and beauty of science to show how a truly scientific outlook can satisfy not only our desire for knowledge and power but also our aesthetic philosophical and spiritual cravings; and to a degree it succeedsThere are dozens of pieces here each with a short introduction by Dawkins himself These never overshadow or upstage the work they are introducing but complement each piece beautifullyThere really isn't anything negative to say about this book apart from noting that one wishes there were even of it to enjoy Highly recommended


  4. says:

    Dawkins's anthology of 20th century science writingYou get the impression some people were included just because Dawkins had some public disagreement with them and now wants to show that there are no hard feelings rather than because they had something interesting to say If that's the case I guess we should be happy he didn't include anything by Mary Midgley; but then unlike Gould and Hoyle she's unfortunately still aliveI suppose the best way to approach an anthology like this is to regard it as a plate of appetizers to help you decide what to pick for the main course If you do though be aware that at least three of the excerpted works are considerably shittier than the excerpt makes them look Davies's The Goldilocks Enigma Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind and to a lesser extent Hofstadter's Gödel Escher Bach which is crap don't get me wrong; it's just that the excerpt doesn't make it look particularly good anyway Perhaps James Watson should be included here as well but I don't think anyone who knows anything about Watson would mistake him for a writer worth reading anywayMy disagreement with a handful of the inclusions shouldn't be taken as a dismissal of the whole anthology though most of the remaining eighty or so works are very good indeed Some of them are a bit too short but they'd have to be At the very least they give the reader a place to start looking and as a whole they clearly illustrate what Dawkins set out to explain how scientists think and why science is fucking interesting


  5. says:

    A solid collection of science writing though not without its flaws I have two primary complaints the collection is organized rather arbitrarily and it's heavily weighted towards biology A better title might have been 'The Oxford book of Richard Dawkins' favorite science writing'That said none of the selections are excessively long and most make for a good read Dawkins' keeps his comments to a minimum a paragraph or two with each selection and on the whole these are both elouent and interestingThere's a small subset of this book I'd recommend strongly As a whole it's still worth checking out


  6. says:

    This book was perfect for my level of scientific understanding as a 'layperson' with knowledge of the scientific method Books written by non scientists about science or scientific discoveries are fascinating to mepossibly because of the irony of dissecting and studying those who do that for a living But books written by scientists with the linguistic skills to communicate without jargon are a real treat “This is a collection of good writing by professional scientists not excursions into science by professional writers writes Dawson The essays were well chosen and each brought a brief discrete view of a particular scientific discovery or endeavor The tediousness of the profession becomes obvious and the amount of devotion to microscopic or highly speculative or theoretical lines of inuiry is impressive Yet the simple 4 section layout provides a basic guide as to the purpose of Dawkins' choices for the anthology What Scientists Study Who Scientists Are What Scientists Think and What Scientists Delight In One of the reasons this book attracted me was because as a University student in social sciences a reuired reading was one by Dawkins on writing and his evolution from scientist to writing teacher He employs the rigor of science in sentence construction and deploys the precision of it to vocabulary practically eliminating adjectives Spare language with low word count is the goal and he deplores parenthetical phrases and over explanation Forced to read convoluted theory from the 17th to 19th century at that time this was an advancement of science I could admireThe book was informative inspirational and thought provoking It was interesting to read about the practice of science that continues to produce technology medicine and understanding and gain a fly on the wall view Also it was refreshing to read of scientists who reconcile their faith with science and whose science produces awe wonder and joy as so much written about science today merely pits it against religion or political agendas so much by Dawkins is specifically anti religious and overtly atheistic Science is invoked so often in social media comments and memes it's easy to forget there are real scientists and that science is a job that people do every day that makes the world a better place The anthology ends with Carl Sagan's The Pale Blue Dot the classic that my and my children's generations were raised with describing a science of awe and wonder that did not see religion as an enemy A religion old or new that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths” Nor was science for the elite; it was the goal of Sagan's life to make it accessible on TV and in lay media just as it is the goal of Dawkins to make it readable He succeeded with this anthology in getting back to his roots as a practicing scientist and appreciating the discipline practice and body of scholarship that science was before it was politicized introducing us to a diverse and hard working cast of thinkers researchers and writers that are scientists


  7. says:

    If you want to be inspired either by the majesty and beauty of science or by the passion and skill of those who write about it pick up this book and read a few sections It contains scores of snippets each just a handful of pages on dozens of different subjects by a range of different authors and most of them are inspirationalWhen I bought the book I didn't realize that the readings were all from popular science writing for non specialist audiences Misled by the cover art and by the list of authors I expected a collection of sparkling gems of writing from the primary literature There are indeed many samples from notable scientists; if you can name a scientist from a field you don't work in chances are he is represented here And the male pronoun is appropriate; female authors fill only a few percent of the pages But these selections are taken from their writings for the general public post Nobel and in the memoir writing or science popularization phase of their career Nonetheless the writing is still impressive Although not models for good technical science writing as I had hoped the excerpts do a great job of conveying the enthusiasm for science and delight in discovery that is shared by every great scientist and science writer Another thing that caught me off guard was the emphasis on biology and especially evolutionary biology There are some samples here from astronomers and physicists but as often as not they are writing outside the field that they are known for We get Einstein's musings on religion and philosophy Schrödinger's description of entropy for biologists and astrophysicist Fred Hoyle's take on evolution It's not that these are not interesting and I can understand why Dawkins has a soft spot for writings on the biological sciences but I expected and would have enjoyed a little representation from the physical scientistsEven with these uibbles the books is outstanding It's very enjoyable to read whether you want to admire the writing or absorb some of the science Many of the passages made me curious to read the longer works from which they were taken several of which have already made it onto my bookshelf


  8. says:

    This is an anthology of essays edited by Richard Dawkins one of the foremost promoters of the philosophical materialist view of the world currently writing His choices and his short introductions to these essays continue his work Despite the title which indicates a general science approach this book does lean toward the biological sciences and evolutionary biology in particular Since biology is my area of formal training and since I do have a special interest in evolution that suits me just fine and it is what you would expect from Richard Dawkins too Nevertheless those of you who are interested in physics cosmology mathematics and other branches of science will find something to your liking too Further the essays have been chosen for their literary merit so the writing is clear and engaging It is uite comprehensible to the intelligent layman and provides learning possibilities to those who have never studied science too Even the essays on mathematics are bereft of euations in favor of instructive and entertaining discussion


  9. says:

    The charm of anthologies like this is that they expose you to writers you might not otherwise encounter Selected by Richard Dawkins this book is weighted heavily toward Darwinian scientists Inevitably the selections are uneven Steve Jones on genetics is fascinating; a section on the mathematical classification of spirals was less captivating The section by Douglas Hofstadter Godel Escher and Bach was especially intriguing This is an interesting collection but the selections are so truncated that it's like snacking on h'orderves; no substitute for the full course A non scientist will be left with a very limited understanding of these scientific issues It would have been helpful to have a chapter describing the main areas of recent discovery and controversy in each scientific discipline to put these selections in better context The short pre ambles from Dawkins are inadeuate


  10. says:

    This is a compilation of essays by and about science and scientists I read it for a book group and it did provide the basis for a wide range of interesting discussions It is not really a science book but does related to the way scientists think and what moves them It has a spiritual sense about the grandeur of nature and the mind of man