Review: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

gulpPublished by W. W. Norton & Company
Released April 1, 2013
336 pages
Where I got it: ARC received from publisher at ALA Midwinter 2013
Rating: ★★★★★

Description (from publisher):

The irresistible, ever-curious, and always best-selling Mary Roach returns with a new adventure to the invisible realm we carry around inside.

“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp 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 words 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? In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of—or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists—who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts.

Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies.

I had high expectations for Gulp. I’ve read Roach’s books Stiff and Spookso I had a pretty good idea of her writing style and what to expect from this book. I’m happy to report that Gulp exceeded my already high expectations and was probably the most fun of any book I’ve read so far this year. Mary Roach asks the most uncomfortable questions, the ones you always wondered but didn’t want to ask for fear of being a weirdo. Well, she’s like our representative weirdo, and there was much rejoicing! At first I was skeptical about how much strangeness there could be to discover about the human digestive system, but it’s there!

A warning: Gulp is not for the weak of stomach, or people who get nauseous thinking of things like vomit, feces (eating your own), compacted colons, or having a permanent hole giving external access to your stomach. If any of those topics sound like things you can’t handle reading about, this is not the book for you. That said, I finally found out the answers to many things I’d wondered. For example, why do rodents and dogs eat their own poo? Vitamins! How does it benefit Inuits to eat all parts of their kills? Vitamins! You get the picture.

Still, in the wrong hands this book could have been boring. Fortunately, Roach is constantly adding her own asides and internal narrative to the reader in the form of footnotes and parenthetical statements. I would love to have lunch with her. She seems cool.

I can’t stress enough how much fun Gulp was to read. I’ve been raving about it to my friends, and I’ll rave about it here. This is going to be a reread for me one of these days, because it’s so chock full of information that I know I’ll need multiple passes to retain much of it. Then I’ll go around regurgitating it to all of my friends, like a mother bird to her chick.

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2 Responses to Review: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

  1. I could never, ever read this, because I am a major wimp, but I’m glad you finally found a book to love, especially since I just saw you’re one star for that stupid horror book.

    • Audrey Audrey says:

      Sorry to hear you wouldn’t read this one, because it’s crazy good! I could see it making some people feel a bit ill, though. Not me. I have a stomach of steel.

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