Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Brendan Borrell

Brendan Borrell is a correspondent for The Scientist whose work has appeared in many other publications, including Audubon, Natural History, Scientific American, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished reading three books over the last week. The first was The Underdog: How I Survived the World's Most Outlandish Competitions, in which the 129-pound author, Joshua Davis, competes in everything from an extreme sauna championship in Finland to a "retrorunning" race in Italy. Needless to say, it was not heavy reading, but Davis is one of the most talented narrative journalists working today so I've consumed just about everything he's written. The book is apparently being turned into a film starring Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite fame -- if that gives you any indication of the reading level.

The second was Peter Singer's Practical Ethics, which I picked up for a short assignment but found so compelling I read the 400-page text in a marathon session. It's the first time I've read an academic philosophy book since college, and I was blown away by Singer's clarity and persuasiveness. He takes a level-headed look at controversial topics ranging from abortion to euthanasia and ends with the toughest question of all, "Why be moral?"

Finally, I read Richard Preston's Panic in Level 4, a collection of his New Yorker articles over the last 15 years. The most skillful writing is found in "Mountains of Pi," about a homemade supercomputer, while the most riveting story had to be "The Self-Cannibals," which is about people who have a mutation in a single gene that causes them to mangle their lips and hands. I found myself cringing and then laughing with every sentence as the account alternates between the details of this disfiguring disease and the humanity of those afflicted with it.
Brendan Borrell has "gone toadbusting in Australia, hunted for chile peppers in Bolivia, and followed in the footsteps of an Arizona mountain lion. [He] learned why a leading squash expert never finished graduate school, and [he] tried to discover the truth behind the fall of a star ornithologist."

He "can tell you why wine is red and why cheddar smells like rotten cabbage. [He] can talk tech, too. [He has] written on a birdwatching robot, an electronic nose, and on a hedge fund magnate’s quest to build a supercomputer for the drug industry."

Visit Brendan Borrell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue