Nell Greenfieldboyce—Transient and Strange: Notes on the Science of Life

Cover of the book Transient and Strange: Notes on the Science of Life showing the title in turquoise and gold print over an image of night sky with silver shooting stars.

Transient and Strange


Nell Greenfieldboyce
W. W. Norton, January 16, 2024
Hardback, $27.99, Kindle, $9.66
ISBN-13: 978-0393882346, ASIN: B0C97F85KJ

Greenfieldboyce reports:

At the urging of my pal Ann Finkbeiner, I wrote a couple of essays for The Last Word On Nothing blog and enjoyed it so much I kept writing essays that sat in my computer.

My friend Tim Kreider, who has written a couple of published books of essays, then suggested that I could turn my essays into a book. He got me in touch with his agent, and, after reading what I had so far, she was interested in taking me on. I learned that, in general, books of personal essays are looked on skeptically by the publishing world. In my case, it helped that my essays had a heavy dose of science and also that some people might already associate me with that because of my NPR gig.

Nell Greenfieldboyce
Photo by Tim Devine

We sent the proposal to publishers in early March 2020, but the emerging pandemic prompted us to withdraw it. The proposal didn’t go anywhere for about a year. We then sent it to Matt Weiland at W. W. Norton, who is a fan of “general nonfiction” and literary writing. He made an offer and we went with it. I trusted him right from the start because he had a good sense of how a book is different from other writing projects, like long magazine articles, and I felt he would be a good guide to this unfamiliar form.

Much of my book is memoir, but some of it relates to the history of science. For the history sections, I did most of my research through the internet and by reading used books that I bought online. I didn’t do any travel or take any book leave.

A couple of the essays, like “A Very Charming Young Black Hole” and “My Eugenics Project,” recount events in my life that I still find somewhat disturbing. I had trepidations about being so open about them. But, in the end, I’m glad I was.

Since the publishing world makes little logical sense, I recommend reading Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum, which offers a bracing dose of reality and helps to set expectations.

Contact info:

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Banner image adapted from original photo by Nell Greenfieldboyce.

February 14, 2024

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

NASW members: Will your book be published soon? Visit for information on submitting your report.

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