cover image The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005

, . . Houghton Mifflin, $27.50 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-618-27343-0

Best-of collections are like boxes of chocolates: they're ideally consumed in sittings, and the mystery of what's next adds to the enjoyment. So it is with this volume. Under the editorial guidance of Pulitzer-winning science writer Weiner (The Beak of the Finch ), it tips several sacred cows, including a handful from the field of mental health. Malcolm Gladwell has two pieces, one on the insufficiencies of personality tests, another on what he argues is a thoroughly modern preoccupation with post-trauma stress. Frederick Crews's scorn isn't quite concealed as he tackles the shaky scientific evidence for Rorschach blots, while Natalie Angier's brief essay on the incompatibilities—establishment denials notwithstanding—of religious faith and science will please atheists and irk deists. William Speed Weed's amusing day-in-the-life shows the extent to which Americans are deluged with largely bogus scientific assertions—and how we unthinkingly wolf them down (again, like bonbons). The need to think critically may be the price of admission to human consciousness: capping the anthology is an article on the brain wiring that gives rise to moral impulses. "Chimps may be smart," a neuroscientist says, noting that some primates seem to have moral reactions in the absence of reason. "But they don't read Kant." (Oct. 5)