Thursday, July 2, 2015

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

by Mary Roach
327 pgs

A guy at work walked by me during my lunch break and asked me what I was reading. I'm sure I had a smile on my face, which would explain why he was so surprised when I said it was a science book about the digestive system. Initially I felt like I had to justify my choice of books and tried to explain to him Mary Roach's writing style and her unique and entertaining approach to exploring areas of popular science, but then after a minute or two of failing to get my point across, I decided I didn't care whether he understood or not. I was enjoying myself. Which, after all, is the whole purpose of reading, and it's not a group activity. So I went back to reading.

Most of us have a fairly basic, but working knowledge of how our digestive system works. Delicious and satisfying food goes in one end, repulsive and distasteful waste comes out the other. But for Mary Roach, that level of understanding is not enough, and fortunately, being a writer, everyone is able to benefit from her research and unabashed sense of wonder.

In Gulp Roach takes us on a ride down the alimentary canal. She explores how our sense of taste develops and has evolved. She explains the role of our sense of smell. She interviews a man in prison for murder about the use of the digestive system in smuggling contraband into the prison. She goes into graphic detail concerning the issues Elvis Presley had throughout his life with his digestive system and what ultimately killed him. The world knows he died on the throne, but most of us, including myself, are unaware of the whole story.

She explores whether flatulence is truly flammable? She explains what a megacolon is? And she gives more information and detail about impacted bowels then you're probably going to be comfortable with knowing. As she explains in the book, we are our digestive system. Everything else evolved to support it. And it's worth understanding how it works, how to take care of it, and only Mary Roach can provide this understanding in such an entertaining way.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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