on 13 September 2013
However disgusting it gets, it's impossible not to keep on reading. Immense fun, and the knowledge slips down easily. The digester's read.
I have to be honest, I wasn't particularly looking forward to this book, and put off reading it for quite a while. In part this because anything vaguely medical makes me feel queasy, while as someone who suffers from a serious chronic gastrointestinal problem, Mary Roach's subtitle 'adventures on the alimentary canal' was not encouraging. As it happens, though, the experience was not all bad.
In her usual style, Roach pulls in a lot of characters along the way, from sword swallowers to 'fartistes' (sic) including the inevitable lighting of inflammable gasses, which is where a lot of the fun in the book comes from. Her humorous writing style lacks the subtlety of a Bill Bryson - if I'm honest, I find it a trifle irritating - but a lot of people do like it, with newspaper reviews describing it as 'seriously funny' and 'laugh a minute.'
What's more you certainly will learn a lot more about a part of our bodily system that few of us (who don't suffer from GERD) give little thought to as we pile in the food, really forgetting it after the eating part of the experience, and then dispose of the, erm, detritus from the other end. So it genuinely is educational and sometimes fascinating. I particularly enjoyed, for instance, the section on being swallowed alive, where at least there was a chance to get away from the human digestive tract for a while.
This is without doubt a good book, which is why I've given it more stars than I would on my own personal reaction. However, to get the most out of it, I think it's fair to say you need a strong stomach, which I don't have. So I'm afraid it's a book that is more likely to get flushed than to come back for a second tasting.
This book is a clever idea and mostly I found it fascinating. It is the story of our digestive system from the mouth (saliva, taste, tongue, etc.) all the way through the body to the end ... The author tells us some science about it, some anecdotes about strange anomalies that people have had, and how scientists have discovered the facts about our body as well as some of the inaccurate ideas that they had in the past.
The book is a bit of a mixture and dots around from topic to topic whilst keeping in the same area of the body. What is included seems to be at the author's whim rather than anything systematic so you learn more science about one part of the body and more anecdotes about others. I liked the eclectic nature of the content and found the stories and science equally fascinating.
The author has a particular writing style which involves humorous quips as asides and footnotes. This is quite amusing to start with but rather grates by the end - a little too much of a good thing. She is also rather obsessed with what her interviewees are wearing.
I wouldn't say that the book was gruesome but it is dealing with bodily functions (you can work out which ones) and thus is quite graphic in places. Some of the anomalies people have had in their digestive systems are described with a certain amount of glee and there is also some description of some disturbing animal experiments (in the past). I didn't have an issue with any of this because it all added to the book and the story that the author was telling but if you get a bit queasy you might want to avoid some of the pages.
I was pleased I had read this book - I was entertained and informed.
on 18 May 2014
I wish I could say I devoured this book at one sitting, but it's quite long and the footnotes are set in microscopic type. It's an eye opening, sometimes eye watering, journey through the alimentary canal from discussion of the causes of bad breath, the history of diet fads, all the way to the other end. Our gondolier (singing a buttock clenching version of Ah sole mio, perhaps?) is Mary Roach, a writer who leaves no double entendre unused and very little to the imagination. Hilarious consequences ensue, as it says on some blurbs.
The first half concerns itself with taste, food choice, cultural shibboleths and so forth. The second discusses faeces, mostly. The longest part of the gut, the small intestine which does most of the grunt work, barely gets a look in on the guided tour. Blink and you'll fall straight through the ileocecal valve. This lock gate in the canal, Roach reports, proves that you can't get nutrition from enemas, though you can get vitamins. The Vatican explored this issue in 1600, with respect to fasting nuns during Lent. I am left wondering if you can absorb electrolytes through enemas, and whether some learned Imam is right now delivering a fatwa about what is permitted during Ramadan, when nothing must pass your lips in the day. The colon is also used for smuggling and consuming drugs. But while it's not capacious enough for a suicide bomb (only the bomber will die, even on a plane) it is capable of taking in an iphone, though maybe not a tablet.
Roach is an assiduous researcher and though her writing style is easy to parody I greatly enjoyed this book. I am extremely grateful for it in fact; I dread to think of what ads pop up on the Roach family computer, I'm just glad they don't appear on mine. Perhaps she has permanently disabled cookies.
A story she does not find in her research is that of the deep sea diver. Hyperbaric chambers need toilets, and divers need to go. There's a collection chamber on the outside of the "bin" (as we called it). Once some idiot Life Support Technician opened both valves on the dump at the same time, with predictable results. Miraculously the victim survived, at the price of a fore-shortened small intestine (even) and the need for forty squares a day and a colostomy bag. The design was subsequently changed so there was a valve on the inside as well. I always used to double check. The story may be an urban myth and I am encouraged by the diligence of the author to hope so.
Maybe I'm being over indulgent to compare this book with the classic How Was It for You, Professor? or Sperm Wars, but this book has brought up my inner schoolboy and given me an appetite for the author's others.
on 5 November 2015
I don't recommend reading this straight after Sunday dinner. She's a hilariously funny writer, probably the best popular science writer around. Don't skip her footnotes, there a few classics here that no stand comedian I know can match. She typically goes off on numerous tangents in fascinating directions as she does with all her work. Mary is a taboo challenger and she jaunts her way through the the digestive process. Once food ,which we glorify in all cultures, enters the mouth it becomes repulsive and as it makes its way further along the digestive tract it becomes downright disgusting.We really don't want to know what happens after. Mary is indifferent to our queasiness and drags us along whether we want to go or not. I know more than I ever thought or needed to know. The quackery of the early scientist who poked his tongue into the hole in mans stomach to taste the post digested meal will stay in my mind for far too long.
on 26 May 2013
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is not one for the squeamish but if you want to find out, in a light hearted manner, how your digestive system works then read this book. It is well written, amusing, enlightening.and I am more than happy to give it it's 5 star rating.
on 19 July 2014
I expected a systematic journey through the alimentary canal but what I got was much more eclectic and much more entertaining. Mary Roach has a journalist's instinct for a good story and although the focus is on science there are elements of history and anthropology in this book. She covers topics as diverse as Jonah and the whale, flatulence, market research for pet foods and smuggling inside prisons, all told with obvious enthusiasm.
At times, I found the humorous asides a rather intrusive and she was sometimes a bit too flippant about the manner of death of people who had died quite recently. However, these are small irritations and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and will definitely read more in the series.
on 13 May 2013
Too few people understand their insides, not giving food or its digestion a second thought once swallowed. This beautifully written book brings comedy to science. Everyone should read it so they understand more abou their bodies.
Gulp tells you all, and much much more than you needed to know about the act of eating, tasting, digesting and excreting all that we take into our mouths.
Mary Roach not only follows the food we eat through our digestive tract but recounts past medical oddities, digestion habits of various animals and what Elvis really died of.
It is a fascinating if sometimes slightly repulsive look into our inner workings.
Roach makes information quite accessible to those who have not considered digestion (except when it pains us) and is quite amusing and light-hearted about her research.
I did, at one stage sit down to eat lunch while reading this but found this was not a good idea at all.
An interesting book.
on 10 July 2015
The bodily functions of the gut discussed in all their wondrous glory from the mouth to the bumhole. I found this a really interesting read and there aren't that many books on this subject as it's always been such a taboo to discuss such things. Mary's humorous prose and collection of anecdotes fascinated me from start to finish. Elvis has my utmost sympathy. I highly recommend this book and will look out for more of this author's work