Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Review: Gulp by Mary Roach

It's alarmingly appropriate to review this book at Thanksgiving time.

Mary Roach has yet again approached a topic considered by many (most?) people to be, well, pretty gross and through her trademark sparkling wit and groan-worthy puns transformed it into an intriguing and hilarious read.

Starting with our sense of smell and traveling through every aspect of digestion to the *ahem* end, Roach consults with varied experts in each field, observes experiments, participates in unique experiences, and brings a child-like fascination with her wherever she goes.  From taste-testing dozens of olive oils to reverse-engineering flatulence, every chapter contained some new revelation.

Roach takes great delight in meeting people whose names match their professions to perfection.  For example, her glee at discovering two individuals employed at the Soap and Detergent Association named Dr. Spitz and Mr. Grime practically jumped off the page.  A man named Colin Leakey carried out a "flatus research project" in the 1970s.  A physician named Dr. Crapo identified that the fumes that exist in manure pits and sewage tanks can cause paralysis and suffocation and coined the phrase "dung lung".  It goes on and on.  And her despair when someone named Alvine ("of or relating to the belly or intestines") missed his calling - well, I'll let her tell it in her own words:
With crushing disappointment, I learned that Dr. Gregory Alvine is an orthopedist.  Staff at the oxymoronic Alvine Foot & Ankle Center did not respond to a request for comment...In a more perfect world, Whitehead would be a dermatologist, just as my gastroenterologist is Dr. Terdiman, and the author of the journal article "Gastrointestinal Gas" is J. Fardy, and the headquarters of the International Academy of Proctology was Flushing, New York.
Don't let all the potty humor obscure the fact that Roach is a fantastic science writer.  She distills complex biological processes into layman's terms that are easy to understand and follow and the reader puts the book down feeling both smarter and amused.  You learn without even really realizing it.

And she makes the reading so compelling, too!  Roach is a master of ending a chapter in such a way that you find yourself almost unconsciously turning the page for another few paragraphs - or more - even when it's past your bedtime and your suppressed laughter is shaking the bed and keeping your husband awake.

I don't know of many higher compliments for non-fiction writers than this: she makes learning fun.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
by Mary Roach
ISBN: 9780393348743
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperbackebookaudiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

No comments:

Post a Comment