Those of us interested in science and medical writing should be aware of a contemporary author, Natalie Angier. I just finished reading for the second time, her book published in 1995 titled “The Beauty of the Beastly,” a compilation of articles that originally appeared in the New York Times. She is also the author of “Natural Obses-sions,” “Woman: An Intimate Geography” and her latest, “The Canon.” I believe all of them are available in paperback.

“The Canon” delves into physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy. It is a primer on science and full of wit and wordplay. Angier writes, “Science is not a body of facts but a state of mind, noting that researchers typically recognize the provisional nature of discoveries, revel in skepticism and are spurred by uncertainty.”

“The Beauty of the Beastly” contains new views on the nature of life. The book includes essays about dolphins, orchids, oxytocin the cuddling hormone, parenting, DNA, longevity, scorpions, roaches, pit vipers, hyenas, cheetahs, DNA and famous scientists, among others. Few writers have so vividly described each of those subjects.

The New York Times Book Review writer noted that Angier is one who is constitutionally incapable of writing a boring sentence.  For example, in an essay published in The New York Times, Angier described metastatic cancer thusly: “They are barbarians, the colonist cells, co-opting all nutrients in their adopted organ and starving their normal neighbors of air, sugar and salts, and blocking traffic and clogging conduits, and finally, when their greed exceeds their easy grab, tearing open surrounding cells and feasting like cannibals on the meat of their fellows.”

In her essay on the anatomy of joy, Angier wrote that happiness is regarded as healthy only because it spares us the enfeebling impact of anxiety or inspires us to cultivate such worthy habits as eating vegetables, avoiding liquor or cigarettes, and sleeping eight hours a night. When commenting on the effectiveness of insecticides to kill roaches, she noted that in recent times many city dwellers have been able to stride into their kitchens at night with the newfound confidence that they can flick on the lights, take a glass from the cupboard, even grab a few cookies from a box on the counter — all without the odious sight of dozens of greasy brown cockroaches scattering for cover.

Angier’s essays demonstrate the basic principles of a great writer's art: brevity, clarity, simplicity and humanity. Finding any current author who writes as well would appear unlikely. For anyone concerned about time wasted napping or goofing off, Angier wrote that those of us who feel the urge to take it easy but remain hardened to the work ethic might do well to consider that laziness is perfectly natural, perfectly sensible, and is shared by nearly every other species on the planet.

Angier's most recent article described what it means to be friends. She said that researchers have long known that people choose friends who are much alike themselves in a wide array of characteristics: similar age, race, religion, socioeconomic status, educational level, political leaning, pulchritude rating, even handgrip strength. The impulse toward bonding with others who are the least other possible is found among traditional hunter-gatherer groups and advanced capitalist societies alike. Even the brains of close friends respond in remarkably similar ways.

I have always worried about my fear of anything to do with numbers until I read Angier's essay on animals’ ability to count. In it, she explained that despite the prevalence of math phobia, people too are born with a strong innate number sense, and numerosity is deeply embedded in many aspects of our mind and culture. Even the words for small quantities are strikingly similar across virtually every language studied, and the words are among the most stable, unchanging utterances in any lexicon.

No greater praise for Angier's work could be topped by the words of Richard Dawkins, found on the cover of “The Canon”: "Every sentence sparkles with wit and charm. But there's passion in there too, and it all adds up to an intoxicating cocktail of fine science writing." I can add that her work is worth reading over and over.

Many years ago Angier thanked the New York Times for allowing her to write about oddball subjects that few other newspapers would touch. I assume that readers of her work like myself would prefer to thank her. Since then Angier has won the Pulitzer Prize, an American Association for the Advancement of Science journalism award and many other honors. She is truly one of the great science writers of our time.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry. He has taught college courses on regulatory and compliance issues at Ivy Tech, Grace College and Butler University. Sherman has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge on all levels. He can be reached by email at