Thursday, October 20, 2016

Those who know the human gut intimately see beauty

I thought I was doing a good job keeping up with reviews. I know I'm a bit behind but I thought I was getting into the swing of things. Then I checked my list to see what's up next for review and realized it's a book I finished back in July. In that time I've done some book shelf rearranging which means naturally I don't even know where the book is and man. Two steps forward, one step back over here.

In my defense, part of this is because I started doing NetGalley and I try to review those as soon as I finish them rather than going in order of when I've finished reading the books, so that pushes the books I'm reading on my own back.

ANYWAY, the good news is that I found the book and it's Mary Roach's Gulp so even though this isn't going to be the most well-thought-review* it's Roach and she's great. So, here we go.
First things first, I love Roach. I am all about science books by non-science but very curious people and thus far she hasn't steered me wrong.** So on a trip to Boston when I saw Gulp I had to get it. Obviously. And once again, Roach manages to be hilarious and make me feel like I learned something.

This time Roach takes the reader through the alimentary canal, starting at the top and working her way down. There's the normal stuff you'd expect from a book on the digestive system, such as the role smell plays in taste, how the teeth and stomach do their thing to turn the food you eat into the calories you need. But then there's the off-the-beaten-path stuff that makes her so much fun. There are chapters such as: "Big Gulp: How to survive being swallowed alive", "The Longest Meal: Can thorough chewing lower the national debt", and "Up Theirs: The alimentary canal as criminal accomplice". Truly something for everyone.

And of course a big thing in Roach's work is talking to the scientists that are obsessed with their particular line of study. No one can wax poetic about the benefits of salvia quite like Erika Silletti, or can tell you ALL the nuances to chewing like Andries van der Bilt or the dozens of other scientists that make it their business to understand all their is to know about the taste buds, the stomach, the colon, etc.

She delves into some of the scientific history of how we know what we know about digestion, which includes some disturbing relationships, such as that of William Beaumont and Alexis St. Martin and involves one man dropping food into the other man's stomach via a hole in his side (think of it as fishing) to see how stomach acid does its thing.

Depending on your squick factor, there can be some stuff here's that's too gross. I don't think she goes overboard or dwells on anything for too long, and some of the stuff can be gross, but she seems to delight in this grossness which makes it a lot easier to swallow.
Her footnotes are hilarious. Sometimes they shine additional light on whatever the topic is and other points you get things like this:
Also join Litsy
So yeah. Roach is super fun and I highly recommend you check her out.

Gif rating:
*In addition to being behind on reviews I also apparently forgot to take notes after reading this so starting from scratch here. AND I didn't even write down any page numbers with quotes I like. Past me is such an ass.
**Other titles of hers I've liked: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and SexGrunt: The Curious Science of Humans at WarPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Title quote from page 326

Roach, Mary. Gulp: Adventures On The Alimentary Canal. W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.