"America's funniest science writer" (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on a unforgettable tour of our insides. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions inspired by our insides are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find names for flavors and smells? Why doesn't the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? We meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks - or has the courage - to ask. And we go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a bacteria transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal.
Like all of Roach's books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies. 15 illustrations
In 1968, on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, six young men undertook an irregular and unprecedented act. Despite the setting and the social climate of the day, it involved no civil disobedience or mind-altering substances. Given that it took place in the nutritional sciences department, I cannot even say with confidence that the participants wore bell-bottomed pants or sideburns of unusual scope. I know only the basic facts: the six men stepped inside a metabolic chamber and remained for two days, testing meals made from dead bacteria.
This was the fevered dawn of space exploration; NASA had Mars on its mind. A spacecraft packed with all the food necessary for a two-year mission would be impracticably heavy to launch. Thus there was a push to develop menu items that could be "bioregenerated," that is to say, farmed on elements of the astronauts' waste. The title of the paper nicely sums the results: "Human Intolerance to Bacteria as Food." ...
For those who have not read Mary Roach books before, Gulp is a good place to start. In her signature style, she has framed her singular subject with humor, unwavering curiosity, offbeat research and quirky facts. Her dry wit, approachable tone, and careful dollops of academic research make for a book that feels familiar, but also startlingly fresh and innovative.
(Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).
Full Review (1018 words).
Gulp is a book about the digestive system. Describe it this way and your friends are probably unlikely to read it. But if they're aware of the ways Mary Roach approaches her content by incorporating anecdotes, focusing on the unusual details, and including the memorable characters who have peppered her research, the whole experience becomes much more worthwhile.
The genre of popular science writing lies between academic literature and personal narrative. While Roach's particular brand of quirkiness is unique, a growing number of popular science writers are making the genre accessible to millions of readers. Among the contemporaries are Oliver Sacks, Dr. Atul Gawande and even Bill Bryson, who while more commonly perceived as a travel...
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