CHF Book Club Recap

Book cover.

We liked it!

Did you get a chance to read this month’s book club selection? Read on to hear the thoughts of participating CHF staff, as well as our pick for next month.

In the “Best American Writing” collections, every year a guest editor is selected to identify the best pieces written in his or her genre over the past 12 months. For CHF’s August book club, we selected the "Best American Science Writing" series in hopes of taking a closer look at the ways writers most successfully communicate science. 

The essays were culled from a variety of familiar sources like the New York Times, the New Yorker, Science, and Discover. This in itself provided us with satisfaction. As opposed to the best science writing being hidden away in obscure journals or niche publications, it was instead published in places familiar to the periodical-reading public—though we were disappointed to see there was only one submission from a “local” newspaper, possibly the result of newsrooms slashing funds for science writers in their budgets.

However, this also raised a fundamental question our group tried to tackle: what is good science writing? Though we all agreed that it should illuminate a complicated topic with an interesting, well-written story, our ideas of other essential components differed. Some felt comfortable with the writer presenting two (or more) sides of a debate and leaving the reader to come to her own conclusion. Others did not. Instead, they wanted the author to take a stance and prove it, asserting a hypothesis much like a scientist. As one colleague put it: “Nice story, but so what?”

Nonetheless, we were pretty impressed by the articles in this collection. Favorites included David Dobbs’ "The Orchid Children," Kathleen McAuliffe’s "Are We Still Evolving," Elizabeth Kolbert’s "The Sixth Extinction," and Steve Silberman’s "The Placebo Problem." Additionally, Sheri Fink’s "The Deadly Choices at Memorial," about a hospital ward during Hurricane Katrina, sparked the most discussion among the group about medical ethics in the midst of natural disaster—a particularly relevant topic as our Philadelphia office waits for Hurricane Irene to whiz by.

Let us know what you thought about the collection as a whole, as well as the individual articles. And stay tuned for the date when we’ll discuss next month’s Book Club selection: Radioactive, a graphic novel about Marie and Pierre Currie, written and illustrated by Lauren Redniss (handily enough, there’s a review in the summer edition of Chemical Heritage).

Jennifer Dionisio is the book review and associate editor for Chemical Heritage.

Luminous Lives [Chemical Heritage]

Posted In: Education

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