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Science journalist Mary Roach has chosen the alimentary tract as the subject of her latest book. She takes us on a tour through the digestive tube from the entrance to the back passage with flexible scope for illuminating the journey with extraordinary facts and figures on the way. The tales of eccentric scientists and their studies along with the footnotes are worth the price of admission to the exploration alone. Taste and smell are the doormen for the digestive tract, chemical scanners for possible dangerous elements (bitter, sour) and desirable (salty and sweet). Saliva is more than a lubricant. It contains enzymes that start breaking down food that are also used in laundry detergents. How we chew is a physiological fingerprint and we learn of Fletcherism, chewing each bite at least 70 times to release nutrients, still used today by some as a slimming aid. Chew and spit as a weight loss strategy is mentioned. Elton John was falsely accused of practising this by a tabloid and received healthy damages. Chewing without swallowing is counterproductive. Everything above the neck (smelling, tasting, seeing) drives eating and everything below puts the breaks on. Why do we enjoy crispy, crunchy foods that the food industry has exploited? Why do Inuits prefer Caribou liver, brain, eyes and stomach contents to eat rather than steak, or babies preferring brain and bone marrow over sweet foods when presented with a selection of mashed foods? The likely answers are here.

Air swallowing (aerophagia) or overeating producing burps , belching and heartburn are explained, as are stomach rupture and competitive eating with startling revelations. The small bowel is not given much detail (it absorbs digested food) although stories of 'tummy' rumbles due to gas (borborygmi) led patients to believe they had snakes, frogs or newts inside them sometimes resulting in needless surgery, in the 1800's. The large bowel (colon) and beyond are more interesting to the author. Smuggling drugs, mobile phones, razor blades, but not explosives, either by swallowing or rectal insertion (hooping) are covered. Flatus and it's many properties are discussed in detail with anecdotes of the dangers of its flammability. Megacolons (both grossly increased in length and diameter) are linked to constipation and death. Elvis Presley is subjected to lengthy speculation concerning the role of his large bowel in the cause of his demise. The colon is a drying machine with the products stored in the rectum before passage to the sensitive anus ('it has to know what's knocking on it's back door') before defaecation. The use of per anum (via the anus) is amusingly confused with per annum (yearly). Hence the Sri Lankan importer who needed 3,600 metric tons of garlic per anum and someone who questioned how many people died from horse riding per anum?

Mary Roach has given a humorous well-researched account of the subject in her inimitable style. As a doctor I am familiar with the digestive tract and particularly enjoyed the history, bizarre facts and presentation from a completely different perspective. Recommended as a funny and educational read without laying the science on too thickly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 21 September 2014
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.
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VINE VOICEon 27 July 2014
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.
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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.
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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.
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on 27 April 2017
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 May 2013
I laughed a lot and learnt some fascinating facts at the same time about the digestive system. Inevitably as the narrative is nearing its end a lavatorial sense of humour helps.
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on 1 May 2017
Excellent book, funny and informative
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'Laundry detergent is essentially a digestive tract in a box.' Now, where else but in a book written by Mary Roach, the author who loves wierd science, would we learn such a thing? I mean, it makes sense, but I have never seen anyone write those words. In her new book, 'Gulp' etc, Mary Roach takes us from the mouth to the anus, and all the by-ways in-between. It is one of the more fascinating and informative books I have read in a long time. I am a health care practitioner, but I have learned more about our alimentary canal and the research involved in it's mysteries, than any of my Anatomy and Physiology books. There is so much to know and learn, I want to cover it all, but I won't, I will leave it to you to go on this journey.

"The human digestive track is like the Amtrak line from Seattle to Los Angeles; transit time is about thirty hours , and the scenery on the last lag is pretty monotonous". There you have it, from the first bite of food that is first smelled, chewed, oral digestive acids acted up on, moved down the esophagus to the stomach and into the bowels, large and small intestine and then into the anus, where the food that went in is expelled. The circuitous route taken is fascinating.

Chewing leads to a discussion of saliva, and we learn "Bodily fluids, gas and excrement may disgust us once they leave the body, but "we are large, mobile vessels of the very substances we find most repulsive." We learn a lot about 'gas', it's make-up, smell, testing, who makes the most gas, farting, and on and on. Megacolon, the large bowel dilatation that causes much straining to release it's contents and can cause cardiac arrhythmia and death, as it probably did for Elvis Presley. Mary Roach spent a great deal of time in her research for this book, traveling the world. Somehow she knew what questions to ask, who to meet, what experiments to take part in.

This really is one of the best books I have read this year. I am a mystery lover, and this book has uncovered mysteries I never knew existed.

"Most of us pass our lives never once laying eyes on our organs, the most precious and amazing things we own. Until something goes wrong, we barely give them thought. This seems strange to me. It is, of course, possible that I seem strange. You may be thinking, 'Wow, that Mary Roach has her head up her a**.' To which I say, 'Only briefly, and with the utmost respect!" Mary in her own words!

Recommended. prisrob
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 September 2014
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.
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