Unearthing Richard III

Like much of the world, I followed the discovery of the remains of Richard III with great interest. I read a fair bit of Tudor biography so, as the King whose fall led to the Tudor triumph, Richard is a compelling character—particularly when one adds in the long-fought battle over his depravity and/or virtue.

I’ve just finished the first book-length work on this archaeological project, The King’s Grave, authored by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones. Langley, chair of the Richard III Society, coordinated the dig after a “revelation” of sorts convinced her that she had identified the location of Richard’s burial. She is not an archaeologist herself, but pulled together a fine team of experts for the project. Michael Jones is the author of a key pro-Richardian history, which provided much of Langley’s initial inspiration. (While the two are co-authors, I will often refer to Langley as author in the course of this review because much of the book is written in her voice.)

For centuries, Richard’s story has been carried along on two very different tracks. After Richard’s defeat and Henry VII’s rise to power, any number of scholars were eager to ingratiate themselves with the new king by writing biographies denigrating Richard. As a result of this historical bandwagon, Langley and Jones tell us, “By the time of Shakespeare this propaganda had reached its zenith. Richard had now become a crouching hunchback, whose bent and distorted body mirrored the hideous depravity of his crimes. By then, the king’s actual body, buried hastily in Leicester after the Battle of Bosworth, had disappeared from view.”

Langley is among those who are convinced the portrait of Richard as murderer and usurper is false and who dedicate their research to furthering a more generous view of the man as honorable, a good king known particularly for his sense of justice. From the beginning, her Looking for Richard project is as much tribute as scientific/historical research. Her original proposals for the dig also included plans for a new tomb and monument in Richard’s honor.

Well before Richard’s body disappeared from view, the bodies of his two nephews, the heirs of Edward IV, Richard’s elder brother, had disappeared. Originally Richard was part of a regency council to rule in the name of the young Edward V until he reached his majority, but quickly Richard became sole regent, then went on to rule as king after the princes were—murdered on his orders? victims of unfortunate, but natural, deaths? By the end of the book, Langley proposes a rereading of Richard as patriot, rather than murderer: “Richard transferred his loyalty, duty, and service to the kingdom since he could not commit his allegiance to Edward’s illegitimate sons.” This seems somewhat disingenuous given that Richard was a player in the process by which the princes were illigitimatized.

Langley isn’t entirely uncritical of Richard, but she sums up her still-partisan goal early on: “To bring [Richard] back to life we do not need to try to replace a villain with a saint; rather, we need to understand better the bravery and self-belief of the line of horsemen who charged across the battlefield to meet their foe, and the astonishing courage of the king who led that charge.”

The book proceeds in chapters that alternate the story of Richard’s life with the story of the dig that uncovered his remains, a move which breaks the continuity of both narratives. The chapters on Richard’s life are quite interesting at times, particularly when Langley and Jones provide close readings of the historical record, discussing the different ways that key documents and actions can be understood. At other times, the historical narrative feels a bit speculative, which has the effect of undermining the attempt at objectivity in the chapters focused on the dig.

Chapter nine is the best of the chapters focused on the dig and analysis of the remains. It offers summaries of the many kinds of methods that were used to identify Richard’s remains: carbon 14 dating, osteology, forensic analysis of perimortem wounds, and facial reconstruction. Chapter eleven, on the other hand, makes one wonder at Langley’s judgement as coordinator of the dig as she recounts further attempts at “scientific” analysis that include handwriting analysis and work by a psychological profiler.

I acknowledge that I lack the scholarly expertise to determine which portrayal of Richard—the wise ruler or the scheming murderer—is more accurate and certainly Langley has more expertise than me, but at times I found myself distrusting her because of her determination to find what she’s already decided should exist.

For now, this book is a good initial read on the finding of Richard’s grave and his reign, but I don’t think it’s the definitive work on the topic. It may be that a definitive read on what are essentially two topics just isn’t possible. Nonetheless I find myself hoping that more and better books will follow this one.


Note: The discovery of Richard’s remains has launched a complicated legal struggle over the issue of where they will be reburied. Langley and Jones’ book ends on the assumption that the story has ended—but the final ending is still being contested.

The Esai Poems by Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca has been saved by the word. And by word, I don’t mean the Bible; I mean the written word. He learned to read and write while in prison and since then has become a fierce, courageous presence on the American literary scene. He’s won honors like the Pushcart Prize and the American Book Award—honors that are well-deserved and that, thankfully, have not diluted the character of his work. He writes to call out injustice, to wrestle with ideas, to balance the horror and hope present in our day-to-day lives.

I’m in the process of reading two of his collections of poetry, each written for one of his children: The Esai Poems and The Lucia Poems. At the moment, I’ve just finished The Esai Poems. I’m holding off on The Lucia Poems until tomorrow morning, when I can take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday and let myself spend several hours sinking into his words.

In her introduction to this collection Carolyn Forché tells us that “Jimmy Santiago Baca gives us the secret and present—and yes, dangerous—reality at the heart of our democracy.” What makes The Esai Poems so remarkable is the way they balance his rage and marvel: rage at the daily loss of human potential through war, imprisonment, indifference and marvel at the infinite miracles, both physical and spiritual, that mark the life of his son, Esai.

Let me start by giving you a taste of his sense of marvel. In the poem “Prolougue” that opens this collection he describes his son in phrases that are Whitmanesque: “let your beautiful feet rush through the/grass as if each/blade of grass/were a harp string/and you were falling from string to string, a/tiny little fellow/reduced to the size of a lizard,/and my goodness, play the songs of giants my son.”

Looking at his son, he celebrates “the festive possibilities of all earthly infants/from Jesus, Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Buddha, to Essai/star at the tip of the tree of life.” He shows us the divine in the ordinary, the ordinary in divine.

Despite the inherent marvel of human life, Baca sees life as a battle, with the marginalized struggling to survive while those who have cling tightly to their wealth and focus on generating more. He describes his infant son’s “tiny hands/that will have to fight for dignity;/ claw through and dig up/struggling your way to peace/bloody knuckled, scratched and cut.” In a later peom, he return to this theme of the struggle for survival that even children face: “much of what I write—/the poems, that is—are stones/I litter the dusty roads with/so kids can pick them up readily/to throw at tanks.” The written word has saved Santiago Baca. He continues to craft it in hopes of helping other survive.

Baca the father is also Baca the activist (though “activist” seems inadequate to describe all he does), who tells his son “your steps are acts of love against cruise missiles/your open arms as you rush headlong to me,/acts of love against bigots who would label protesters/terrorists.”

It’s this dual vision that makes his poems so compelling. Baca describes the incongruencies of our lives in ways that enable us to see them more sharply. Working our way through his poems, I found myself nodding, yes, and yes again, feeling deeply grateful that he could give voice to issues I’ve so often wrestled without without achieving any sort of satisfactory resolution.

Read Baca. Read him once. Read him again. Let his poems help open your eyes to both beauty and horror. At this time of year when we remind ourselves to give thanks, let him help you keep in mind the things we might someday be thankful for if we demand a fairer, more loving world.

Auschwitz Belongs to Us All

Last week, I posted a somewhat philosophical (rambling?) response to Marta Ascoli’s Auschwitz Belongs to Us All. While I stand by the things I said in the previous review, I honestly think I wrote more about ideas the book led me to than about the book itself—and I wanted to do justice to the book, as it’s a remarkable piece of writing.

Ascoli was a young, half-Jewish woman who was deported first to Birkenau (a women’s camp inside Auschwitz), then moved to Bergen-Belsen near the end of WWII. In her author’s note, she explains her purpose in bearing witness: “[T]oday, before the last survivors pass away and a veil of forgetfulness descends over the Nazi death camps and the genocide of the Jewish people. I… feel a sense of duty to contribute my testimony.”  At the same time she notes that she “deliberately left out many facts so [the] story will not become oppressively bleak for readers.” This reticence, which might at first seem a failing, is one of the great strengths of this book. Ascoli’s spare prose makes her story much more moving than a more “dramatic” account might. She lets the events speak for themselves, and they do speak—loudly and disturbingly.

The camps themselves were designed to maximize the suffering of those interned there. For example, “There were no roads, just tracks, and one had to walk everywhere through mud”; slave labor and starvation rations weren’t enough, these we augmented by energy-draining slogs across the camp to the locations where the labor was performed. Prisoners were repeatedly “sorted”  via a process with no apparent logic—at any moment, they might be counted off and every third or every fourth prisoner would be sent to the crematoria. To make the process even more inhumane, the women were often stripped at the beginning of this process.

In some Holocaust narratives, a few individual prisoners manage to retain their humanity, but this was not Ascoli’s experience: “In the camp I met all kinds of people, from intellectuals to farmers and factory workers. Without exception, they all had become dehumanized through their suffering and grown selfish in their struggle for survival. Despite the huge number of people in our camp, each of us carried our cross alone…. the only thing that would matter anymore was your own existence, which—despite the tragedy of it all—was all you had left and might soon come to an end.” I don’t point this out to suggest that Ascoli is in any way a lesser person than the writers of those other narratives, but rather to argue that her honesty about her own loss of humanity requires significant courage. She doesn’t turn herself into a heroine, doesn’t claim she had some resilience others lacked.

Reading Ascoli’s narrative is a difficult experience that calls into question any beliefs one might have about the essentially good nature of human beings. The guards inside the camps, the citizens living outside the camps or along the rail lines that take prisoners to the camps at best observe the suffering with equanimity—and many of them take great pleasure in it. This willing participation in (or at least indifference to) genocide is a reminder of how carefully each of us needs to protect whatever spark of decency and love lies within us. Ascoli’s narratve suggests that participation in brutality is all too easy to become accustomed to.

So why read this book?

Because it offers us a truth. Because it forces us to live with the memory of the worst our species had done. Because it keeps us from thinking “I would never….” We mourn as we read this book, but it can also strengthen us in our own resolve to be the best people we can be, to have the courage to say “no” to abuses of authority. I can’t overemphasize the value of this book—you will come away shaken, but also strengthened by bearing withness to Ascoli’s experiences.

On Facing Evil While Looking Inward (Warning: May Contain Ethical Rambling)

I’ve just finished reading an electronic review copy of Marta Ascoli’s Auschwitz Belongs to Us All. As an Italian teenager, Ascoli, who is half Jewish, spent time in both Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. She was at the latter when liberation came at the end of WWII.

Reading about the death camps is distressing, but necessary, I believe. We need to remind ourselves regularly of the monstrosities we’re capable of—and I use that we deliberately. I’m pretty sure all of us, at least all of us  doing pleasure reading on the internet, spend most of our time forgetting or failing to notice the injustices around us. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that in this global age anyone living comfortably is a “good German”: hanging on to the security he or she has and trying to to be overwhelmed by the constant need and injustice surrounding us. I am not saying that “we” (whoever “we” are) have a system the equivalent to the Nazi death camps. I am saying that people are imprisoned, tortured, and killed every day, both in the U.S. and abroad, for the simple crime of being who they are: impoverished, female, a member of any one of hundreds of ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities (and a majority in one region can easily be a minority in another). The Nazis didn’t invent genocide and WWII certainly didn’t end it.

I’m not saying this because I hate myself or because I want others to hate themselves. Self loathing, as the great contemporary novelist Sherman Alexie reminds us, is really just a form of narcissism. (I’m the worst person in the world! No one is as horrible as me!) Even if there really is one worst person among all 7 billion plus of us, the odds are neither I nor you is that person.

What I found particularly moving about Ascoli’s book is the matter-of-factness with which she recounts her experiences. She isn’t emotionless, but she also doesn’t wallow in emotion. And her ability to bear witness to the terrible things she’s seen in her fellow humans makes it possible not just for us to deplore the evil in others, but to take ourselves to task (somewhat gently, perhaps) for our own evil. I would like to hope that in the face of a horror like the death camps I would speak up—but my government has done any number of things that I find deeply appalling (extraordinary rendition, for example), yet I don’t do much more than write a letter of protest or attend a rally. And sometimes I don’t even do that: I’m “too busy.”

We see some real monsters in Auschwitz Belongs to Us All, and I feel confident I’ll never become one of them. But what about the minor players, those who go along with things without searching their own consciences too rigorously? While many of the people who stop me on the street asking for money have “chosen” this lifestyle in one way or another or have other means of getting by, others no doubt are hungry,  have hungry children waiting in the car they’re living in, have become slaves to drugs that have made any other lifestyle impossible, are fleeing a home situation that was even more violent than the hunger and violence that now threatens them on the street. And I can’t always make the right call about who falls into which categories. I pretty much always buy food for a woman with bruises, but does that mean that someone is beating her up just to play on my sympathy? Am I keeping her in thrall by cooperating? Is that able-bodied-looking man half my age genuinely disabled (and we can argue about what that “genuinely” means)? Does physical disability merit more kindness than psychological disability? If I find someone frightening, does that justify me in failing to see his need?

My point here is that while some of the suffering we see is the product of deliberate action by “real mosters,” much of it is also the product of the limited compassion and generosity of people we would generally describe as “decent.”

How do we live with this knowledge?

On my good days, I try to live with it by choosing to do things I can. Maybe not all the things I could do if I were a hero and able to put myself on the line like a St. Frances or a Mother Teresa. But I choose some things. And on a good day, I can choose one or two more goods than I might on another day. On my bad days, I try not to waste time hating myself. For the heroes, doing right may be a game of all or nothing. For most of us, it’s a game of inches. But one inch of progress from each of us is seven billion inches. And seven billion inches is over 100,000 miles—or four tips around this blue-and-green world we inhabit.

Thank you, Marta Ascoli, for bearing witness. Thank you for doing it in a way that moves us, but that also leaves room for reflection.

Read Auschwitz Belongs to Us All. I’m pretty sure it will give you that extra inch of generosity our world is looking for.

A Call for Citizen Science

I’ve just finished reading a review copy of  Nobel Prize-winner Peter Doherty’s Their Fate Is Our Fate: How Birds Foretell Threats to Our Health and Our World. This book is a good follow up to several of the pieces I read recently in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013, including the piece on how we determine which species extinctions to try to prevent and also the excerpt from David Quammen’s Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic that documents the jump of animal diseases to humans.

Doherty’s book is written for popular audiences (at least those patient enough to wade through a number of technical passages) and he’s open about his purpose from the start: he wants his readers to become “citizen scientists” who “contribute [to science] by helping collect key data on, for example, what’s happening to the birds, to the butterflies, or to the life forms that live in or on the banks of our rivers and streams.”

Doherty gives us two pressing reasons to “enlist” as citizen scientists. First, many diseases originating in birds can be threatening, even deadly, for us—think of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Catching a new virus before it develops human-to-human transmission, is crucial to launching a successful attack against it: “Data from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control], which tracks ‘seasonal’ epidemics in the USA, show the [flu] virus traveling to every state in the space of 4-6 weeks. Contrast that with the four years it took West Nile Virus to get from New York to California using a bird-mosquito infection cycle.” That’s the difference between a virus spread by sneezing and one spread by mosquito bites.

Second, birds can show us the current impact of climate change through changes in population size and ranges. Yes, Doherty—like pretty much every scientist I know—not only acknowledges climate change, but is appalled by our inability to respond with force and commitment to the threat it presents. In his estimation, we come off as something less than the dinosaurs killed by an earlier period of climate change: “While our willful behavior may ultimately ensure our elimination, and that of many other life forms, there is no way that the big dinosaurs could have deliberately contributed to their own extinction. Consciousness, reason, callous greed, deliberate ignorance and true malevolence are very much unique to Homo sapiens sapiens.”

So what does Doherty want us to do? He wants us to participate in programs like the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Counts and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project Feeder Watch. “Indications that a population is at risk are most likely to come from the careful, systematic counts made by birdwatchers and amateur ornithologists [who] participate in [programs like Audubon’s] Backyard Bird Count Program. You don’t even need to leave your own property to be part of this study.”

And if this work sounds unimportant or dry, think again: “While our birder ‘citizen scientists’ might be more like the passionate amateurs of the French Resistance of WWII than paid members of the contemporary US National Guard, American democracy is characterized by volunteerism and broad, public involvement. Being an unpaid ‘birding James Bond’ might appeal to some though, but rather than a Walther PPK or a Beretta, the weapons of choice for our ‘bird spies’ will be leg bands, and binoculars made by Zeiss, Swarowski or Leica.” Forget your stereotypes of little old lady birders; you’re working for national defense.

While it might be easy to laugh at the call to arms, or rather call to field glasses, Doherty’s point is crucial. In the face of threats to our health and our planet, we can take action, we can make a difference, even if we are neither particularly powerful nor particularly wealthy.  Doherty shows us what birders can do. We need a whole series of such manuals to help inspire other communities as well.

Five Sisters at the Turn of the 14th Century

I move between history and historical fiction frequently in my reading, which leads me to think about the difference between the two. Obviously, history is history and fiction is fiction—but the two aren’t so neatly separate. Good writers of history (at least of history for popular audiences) work to achieve the flow and engagement we associate with novels, and good historical novelists research carefully to get their facts straight.

Reading history can be like pondering a map: we see the outline of a land, its topography, the most prominent structures and features. Reading historical fiction is, at its best, like time travel: we don’t necessarily get the big picture, but we perceive one small part of that picture vividly and even, at the best of times, feel that we’re experiencing it for ourselves.

I’ve just finished with Sisters of the Bruce, 1292-1314, by the Australian author of Scots descent J. M. Harvey. My knowledge of Scots history is very limited, so I pretty much had to approach this book in isolation; I didn’t have a preexisting understanding of the tumultuous time period in which it’s set. I’ve read a bit about the two English kings Edward, who fought the Scots around the turn of the 14th Century, but that’s left me able to recognize the occasional name and little else.

In the preface, Harvey tells us “In this fictional narrative, the five sisters of Robert the Bruce speak to us from the past. Their remarkable story deserves to be told, so that they might no longer be ‘unwept, unhonour’d and unsung’—to borrow a line from Sir Walter Scott. The Bruce, Robert the Bruce, was a legendary king of Scotland, devoted to uniting the warring clans and ridding the country of the English.  His five sisters (and their sisters-in-law, children, and nieces) are, indeed a remarkable bunch. Isabel (Isa), the eldest, marries the King of Norway and watches the lives of her siblings—when information is available—from afar. The next two sisters, Christina (Kirsty) and Mary are captured by the English, along with a sister-in-law and a niece. Christina is “caged” within a convent; Mary is literally caged, hanging in a wood and metal pen in the open air above an English castle. The younger two sisters, Mathilde and Margaret, evade capture; filling in a gap in the historical record, Harvey imagines them as fugitives in Orkney.

One can understand why Harvey was eager to write this book. And, having read the jacket synopsis, I was certainly eager to read it. My feelings now, as I’ve finished it, are mixed—contradictory enough that I want to deal with them as individual bullet points, rather than trying to sort through them all at once.

• These are interesting women. I’m delighted to have had them brought to my attention and expect they’ll continue to live in my imagination for some time.

• Harvey is scrupulous constructing and maintaining her timeline so, as long as you read the afterward and sort fact from fiction, you can leave with a fairly clear outline of this period of history as seen from the Bruce perspective.

• The novel reminds us—we seem always to need reminding—of what a barbarous, messy business war is and of the brunt of the suffering borne by civilians: the Scots peasants face misery regardless of who has the nominally stronger hold on the land. English invaders murder, rape, and pillage; Scots defenders burn crops and destroy villages to keep them out of the hands of the English.

• The book has occasional moments of real beauty. For example, in her first letter to Kirsty, Isa writes of her leave-taking and journey to Norway: “For an unusually long time, sea creatures followed our vessel and I could not keep my eyes from their sleek forms and gentle eyes. I hoped they might travel back to you and whisper in their strange tongues that all was well; that these things shall indeed pass.”

• Unfortunately the prose style here is—I was going to say “uneven,” but actually the problem is that the prose style is too even. The above sample is a rarity. Most of the parts of the book written as correspondence among the sisters, sound dully identical. Isa’s letters to Kirsty and Kirsty’s letters to Isa are interchangeable, except for the geographic references.

• The omniscient narrator who directs other sections of the book has a voice like a history textbook—dry and all-seeing, taking the life out of what should be vivid events. Early on in the novel, the narrator tells us “It is as well that foresight is denied mere mortals. Had they [the books’ characters] known what terrible price they would have to pay to achieve their goal [of a united, independent Scotland], their steps may have faltered and turned from such a perilous path; their actions would ultimately fracture their beloved family and the country they so revered.” This doesn’t build suspense, as perhaps it was intended. It flattens the narrative.

• At times, the writer seems to abandon sense in order to ride the flow of a phrase she’s begun. As Mary festers both figuratively and literally in her cage, we’re told, “When some of the older folk no longer wandered by, [Mary] presumed illness or death had overtaken them. Such benign thoughts helped to fill the long hours.” Illness and death, benign? I don’t think so, not even in comparison with Mary’s miserable state.

I found the historical thread running through this novel fascinating, but as a reader I was less than fascinated. Harvey writes fiction as though it were textbook history, drying it out and rendering its varied terrain to a single level of flatness. I appreciate Harvey introducing me to these remarkable women, but I’m still waiting for a novel that will capture their lives vividly.

I <3 Science

Sometimes I want something that’s truly interesting to read, but that doesn’t require a multi-day or multi-week commitment. When that urge hits, few titles work as well as books from the “The Best American” series. No doubt you’ve seen them; they pop up in bookstores every October and cover almost every topic imaginable—from infographics to comics to travel writing.

My personal favorite is The Best American Science and Nature Writing. For one thing, the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, always lands the best editors. I sometimes wonder what might be on the reading list of some of my favorite authors. Well, this series answers that question. The 2000 collection was selected by David Quammen, author of The Song of the Dodo (on biodiversity and extinction, among other topics) and of Spillover (on the spread of animal diseases to humans). Other editors of past volumes have included Brian Greene, Natalie Angier, and Freeman Dyson.

This 2013 editor is Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the 2010 best-seller The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. What a great group of pieces he’s gathered. Authors in the collection include David Owen, Alan Lightman, Oliver Sacks, and Elizabeth Kolbert. Topics range from microbiology to cosmology. And, yes, I’m pretty convinced these pieces are “The Best.” Let me tell you a bit about three of my favorites just to illustrate.

Sylvia A. Earle‘s “The Sweet Spot in Time” is a call for us to recognize our historical moment as crucial to the survival of healthy oceans. Her data-rich essay offers fact after fact about what we’re failing to do (and about some of the things we’re doing right) to protect the 2/3 of our planet covered by water. One of the topics she raises is EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones), the offshore territory that a nation claims as its own. How many here in the U.S. knew that “[t]he landmass of the United States covers more than 3.5 million square miles, but the EEZ embraces more than 7 million, the largest square mileage of any nation, essentially double the size of our country”? Those 7 million square miles represent both great wealth and great responsibility. Along the way, she also discusses her role as a ground-breaking female scientist and traces historical perspectives on the nature of the oceans. If you went to grade school in the late 60s as I did, you probably remember the the-oceans-are-so-big-they’ll-feed-all-of-us-forever zeitgeist of that era. Well, no. Earle shows us why that’s not true and illustrates the swiftening pace of our losses.

Michelle Nijhuis also focuses on threats of extinction in “Which Species Will Live?” Yes, the title means what it implies. Right now different constituencies—scientists, governments, environmentalists—are deciding which species we can/should save and which to abandon. Do we save the attention-getting, “sexy” species? The rarest? Those that underpin entire ecosystems? Those who come out on top triage-style as least likely to be doomed? Further complicating this already heart-breaking and obscene decision-making process are complications we’ve created. Nijhuis tells us: “Protected areas and parks, however, can be difficult to establish and police, and because climate change is already shifting species ranges, static boundaries may not offer the best protection for some species.”

One last piece worth specific mention is Gareth Cook‘s “Autism, Inc.” Before I began reading, I expected some sort of exposé on quack cures for autism or the ways big business is profiting from rising autism rates. Well, the second guess was somewhat close, but not at all in the way I’d expected. Cook profiles a Danish company, Specialisterne (trans: the specialists), that hires autistic individuals with certain profiles to do intellectually repetitive, but challenging work requiring a level of focus most of us are incapable of. Thorkil Sonne, founder of the business and father of an autistic son has received international awards for entrepreneurship and is opening up new company offices in a number of countries, including the U.S. The kind of work Specialisterne focuses on can only be done by a small proportion of autistic individuals—but for those individuals, this work offers high pay, respect, and stability.

So, if this cluster of previews has whet your appetite, pick up a copy and read more. Even if you never knew you liked science writing, I feel comfortable promising that The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013 will contain pieces you’ll find deeply engaging.