Wednesday, February 4, 2015

REVIEW - Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Original Publication Year: 2013
Genre(s): Non-fiction, Biology
Series: NA
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from
Narrated by: Emily Woo Zeller

As with most Mary Roach books I went into this book not knowing that I had any interest in the gastrointestinal system. As usual she quickly convinced me that in fact not only was I interested but obsessively fascinated.  She specializes in taking a science topic and digging into it, uncovering all the weird but still often relevant details.  She is also seemingly incapable of being embarrassed by her curiosity and will pursue things like how astronauts poop in zero gravity to the bitter end.  It is all so well researched and delivered with such a wry wit that I find it impossible not to get sucked in to every single detail.

So the Alimentary Canal?  Utterly fascinating and seemingly designed for a Mary Roach type treatment.  After all the whole process of digestion and waste production is messy, frequently embarrassing and mostly taboo for cocktail party conversation.  However Mary Roach had me wanting to spout various interesting facts like the fact that when babies were offered a range of healthy foods, before cultural bias had kicked in, some of their favorites were bone marrow and sweetbreads (pancreas of a calf or lamb).  There are people that have volunteered as part of a research project to smell and describe farts.  There are people researching and dissecting all the various gases and compounds of farts.  Roach delves deeply into all aspects of the digestive system, from the mouth to the colon, without flinching.  I think she may be at her most witty as well. 

The reader of the audio book is fine but I didn’t love her.  I feel like the reader should be someone with a more mature, dryer voice for some reason.  Someone who can really do the sly wit justice. 

FINAL VERDICT:  This is probably my next favorite Roach offering next to Stiff – all the information flows together, is relevant and has just the right amount of detail and Roach really lets her humor shine.  Four out of Five Stars. 

Who, besides Mary Roach, would you like to have at your next cocktail party?  
Both the Read Harder and Eclectic Reader Challenges have a Microhistory category.  I'm not sure Gulp technically fits the bill but it does in spirit - very focused on a specific and somewhat odd object and it includes plenty of history about the study of said object. 

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