Monday, May 23, 2016

I'm interested in the parts no one makes movies about - not the killing but the keeping alive

I've known about NetGalley for awhile but I had never bothered with it. That is until Sarah mentioned that Mary Roach's newest book Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War was available for request, at which point I decided I NEED to get in on this. Luckily I was approved, which was quite exciting. And now I get to talk about more Mary Roach, so that's just swell.
Mary Roach has quickly become a go-to author* where I don't worry too much about WHAT she's written because she hasn't let me down yet. This time she's looking into the science of war, specifically focused on the advancements in keeping soldiers alive and safe, which is a far more interesting aspect of war IMO than the bang bang part.

The opening of the book really sets the tone for what's to come. She talks about experiments shooting chickens at airplane windshield to test the effects of birds flying into a plane. And about the different types of damage different birds do to a plane. And at this point you know that this isn't going to be a book about weaponry. Unless of course we decide to weaponize frozen chickens, something I'm positive has been suggested at some point.
This is the sort of story that drew me to military science - the quiet, esoteric battles with less considered adversaries: exhaustion, shock, bacteria, panic, ducks...This book is a salute to the scientists and the surgeons, running along in the wake of combat, lab coats flapping. Building safer tanks, waging war on filth flies. Understanding turkey vultures.
The book is broken into sections looking at aspects of war such as what the soldiers wear, the difficulties faced by combat medics, the history of shark repellant for military purposes, and then a few chapters about below-the-belt issues (at least 2 chapters about genital injuries including advancements made in penile transplants). As with her other books, she approaches the subject with humor, which is needed when you're talking about something like stink bombs, but the science is serious stuff. Keeping soldiers safe is a lot of work, with seemingly 2 million variables to consider at every turn. As she points out, the "US government button specifications run to twenty-two pages." Those are a lot of points to consider about a button. 

Roach is skilled at taking what could be a dry topic and making it interesting and funny and easy for non-scientific (and in this case non-military) people to understand and enjoy. Right after getting my copy of Grunt, I picked up Gulp for sale at a local bookstore, so yeah, I'm pretty excited to jump into even more Roach.

Gif rating:
*She joins other favorite authors like Bill Bryson, Jasper Fforde, and Christopher Moore.

Title quote from location 73

Roach, Mary. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. W.W. Norton & Company, 2016. NetGalley