Saturday, October 21, 2006

Some good writing

Now for some unalloyed subjectivity. Sara Abdulla reckons most pop science badly written. I tend to agree. Maybe it is fairer to say that most science writers rarely do better than functional, workmanlike (non-sexist alternative?) prose - me included. I wonder how much this matters (certainly to the readers of popular science), and will say why one day. But there are some mainstream popular science books which are memorable because of the quality of the writing - because the author can occasionally make words work on the page in a way which gives pleasure to a reader who likes that sort of thing. Now there's an evasive definition for you.

Ten of the above (in no particular order):

Jonathan Weiner - The Beak of the Finch
E. O. Wilson - The Diversity of Life
George Johnson - Strange Beauty
Timothy Ferris - Coming of Age in the Milky Way
Marek Kohn - A Reason for Everything
Oliver Morton - Mapping Mars
Rachel Carson - The Sea Around Us
Loren Eiseley - The Firmament of Time
John McPhee - Basin and Range
Diane Ackerman - A Natural History of the Senses

It would be quite easy to double this list, and not just by adding another book from each of these authors. After that, I think it would get harder.

Norman Mailer is annnoying me, and is relevant because I want to note why his book is NOT well-written. It is partly because he was clearly way too grand by 1969 to be edited. But no time now to go into that...


Blogger MK said...

Most science writing isn't just bad, it is horrible.

I make no claim to great skills on this front, but I find it hard to read most science magazines, especially those at the "pop" end of the spectrum, where you expect writers to work a bit harder on their communication skills.

I am a bit famous for being an awkward sod when it comes to judging writing. It is sad to see not only no progress since I ranted and rave but a decline in the writing on offer.

I don't expect great art, just workmanlike writing. Maybe the subeditors just aren't out there any more.

1:59 PM  

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