A Review of Dan Ariely’s Best American 2012

What benefits you and your dinnertime conversations? Reading awesome books. If that sounds a bit like mutualism, and you want in on the benefits, the latest edition of editor Dan Ariely’s Best American Science and Nature Writing series is a delightful reading indulgence. The series, published annually with collaboration from guest editors (this year’s guest editor: Tim Folger) and experts in the field, is the perfect addition to the mental reading list and is a real standout among airport reading options during holiday travels (I may have just been victim of intense airport marketing schemes).

The title succinctly describes the book. It contains some of the best writings that have appeared in popular science magazines and mainstream media outlets such as the New Yorker and the Atlantic. Each piece is short and centered around the theme of, you guessed right, science or nature. Although non-fiction sparks fear in the less committed reader, Ariely and Folger have picked their choices wisely: from “How to Hatch a Dinosaur,” to “Test-Tube Burgers,” each selected work is as entertaining as it is educational. The short chapters and wide variety of topics ensure a topic of interest for all readers, even the toughest of dinosaur-burger-haters.

For picky readers only interested in mutualism and/or aggression in ants (presumably most readers), skip ahead to “The Teeming Metropolis of You,” by Brendan Buhler, “Our Body the Ecosystem,” by Virgina Hughes and “Ants & the Art of War,” by Mark Moffett. Buhler and Hughes will amaze you with inside stories and alarming facts on how dependent we all are on the teeny tiny microbial friends housed inside and outside our human shell. Moffett will present a different story with his very “down to earth” writing style, he easily amazes readers with the similarities ants and humans share when it comes to war. We both seem to be aggressive species. Moffetts writing anthropomorphizes ant societies in a way that is as factual as it is surprising and profound; at one juncture Moffett compares ant war strategy to the strategy of (the human) Chinese general Chen Tsu. He will also let you in on the secrets of the ant-world dominators: Linepithema humile, or the Argentian ants known to build supercolonies. Apparently rival “supercolonies” have ongoing battles defending territories, killing enemies, and  where does this all happen? Underneath our own feet, Californians: look down!

If ant wars and microbe infestations sound riveting, grab Dan Ariely’s latest edition (2012 is almost over, so buy before the new edition pushes this one off the shelf).

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