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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal [Hardcover]

by Mary Roach
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (637 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 2013 0393081575 978-0393081572 First Edition

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.

15 illustrations

Frequently Bought Together

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal + Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers + Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
Price for all three: $36.87

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2013: Mary Roach’s investigations into weird body science were inspired by a plastic torso with removable organs in her fifth-grade class, “the point at which curiosity began to push aside disgust or fear or whatever it is that so reliably deflects mind from body.” Since then, she’s investigated death (Stiff), sex (Bonk), life after death (Spooked), and life in zero-gravity (Packing for Mars). Now, she cruises down the alimentary canal with Gulp. As you’d expect with Roach, this isn’t a methodical top-to-bottom tour. It’s more delightful and memorable than that. She’s a gorgeous writer, a master of sly asides, puns, and the bizarre but ultimately relevant story, sounding at times like an absurdly well-informed comedian (her footnotes are must-reads). And her evocative portraits of experts obsessed with their piece of the digestive puzzle--the surprising properties of saliva, nuances of chewing and digesting, and, yes, the incredible control of the colon--coaxes her readers beyond the gag reflex, inspiring awe for the world inside ourselves. --Mari Malcolm

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In her latest rollicking foray into taboo, icky, and underappreciated aspects of the human body, best-selling science writer Roach takes readers on a wild ride down the alimentary canal. Not that the author of Stiff (2003), Bonk (2008), and Packing for Mars (2010) ever takes a direct route anywhere. No, voraciously curious and intrepid Roach zips off in whatever direction her ardor for research and irrepressible instinct for the wonderfully weird lead her. She begins this hilarious, mind-expanding inquiry into eating, digestion, and elimination with the symbiosis between smell and taste, guided by an olfactorily gifted “sensory analyst,” then profiles Horace Fletcher, proponent of a rigorous chewing routine known as “Fletcherizing” practiced by Henry James and Franz Kafka. We learn more than one can imagine about saliva and our passion for crispy and crunchy foods. Given Roach’s fascination with what we find disgusting, scientific obsessions and bizarre experiments, and horrifying things we do to ourselves, the stories get stranger as she proceeds down the body. Roach interviews a prison inmate about “rectal smuggling” (including cell phones), tells tales of flatulence, and reveals the truth about Elvis Presley’s fatal megacolon. For all her irreverence, Roach marvels over the fine-tuned workings and “wisdom” of the human body, and readers will delight in her exuberant energy, audacity, and wit. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (April 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393081575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081572
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (637 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MARY ROACH is the author of "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife," "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex," and "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void." She lives in Oakland, California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
183 of 186 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mary Roach is one of my favorite science writers and I always buy her books and read them when they first come out.

This book - Gulp - is all about the alimentary canal; that part of the body that begins at the point where food is consumed and ends where solid waste is expelled. Starting with taste and the mouth, she follows our digestive system all the way down. As with her other books, this one is replete with interesting and often bizarre facts and tales of eccentrics and misguided scientists and experiments gone awry. The author covers all sorts of "taboo" and sensitive subjects and both educates us and makes us laugh.

At the start, we learn about the importance of our nose (our ability to smell) and what that has to do with taste. She also compares our tastebuds with those of cats and dogs - showing how we often assume that they will like what we will. Well, it turns out that's really wrong. We learn how different cultures throughout history have found different things palatable and that the foods consumed by the most privileged may not be the healthiest. She also goes on later on to compare the anatomy of man to those of various other animals and points out how we are the same and how we differ. We learn about the problems and benefits associated with our digestive system and the various theories and treatments over time for various intestinal ailments.

In typical Mary Roach style, she candidly discusses such "taboo" topics as intestinal gas and our bowel habits. We read about the dangers of prisoners secreting contraband in their stomachs or their anal cavities and go from there to learning about the digestive systems of competitive eaters.
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70 of 80 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
So starting a book about the alimentary canal, we are taken on a tour of what people consider palatable. It doesn't have much to do wih nutrition. For example, organ meats and byproducts have enough vitamins to prevent scurvy, but most people really do not care to eat them. Mary Roach has noted that "some degree of obsession is a requisite for good science, and certainly for scientific breakthrough." I am not sure if she includes herself in this judgment but she certainly does spend a lot of time with strange specialists for her books. While this book would likely be called popular science, she doesn't skimp on source interviews and extensive research. In this case she is following the route of food which "like the Amtrak line from Seattle to Los Angeles:tranist time is about thirty hours, and the scenery on the last leg is pretty monotonous." This book, however, is anything but monotonous.

I have read her other books, and found them to be instructive, witty, and sometimes funny. This book is another enjoyable find. I mean who can resist a writer who notes that the proper name of the uvula is "palatine uvula" the name she intends to use if she should branch out to romance novels? I cannot deny that there are some nauseating facts included in this book, but one must surely expect that given the subject matter. She delivers cogent and well organized material in well formed and flowing prose. For this feat I give five stars.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
'Laundry detergent is essentially a digestive tract in a box.' Now, where else but in a book written by Mary Roach, the author who loves wierd science, would we learn such a thing? I mean, it makes sense, but I have never seen anyone write those words. In her new book, 'Gulp' etc, Mary Roach takes us from the mouth to the anus, and all the by-ways in-between. It is one of the more fascinating and informative books I have read in a long time. I am a health care practitioner, but I have learned more about our alimentary canal and the research involved in it's mysteries, than any of my Anatomy and Physiology books. There is so much to know and learn, I want to cover it all, but I won't, I will leave it to you to go on this journey.

"The human digestive track is like the Amtrak line from Seattle to Los Angeles; transit time is about thirty hours , and the scenery on the last lag is pretty monotonous". There you have it, from the first bite of food that is first smelled, chewed, oral digestive acids acted upon, moved down the esophagus to the stomach and into the bowels, large and small intestine and then into the anus, where the food that went in is expelled. The circuitous route taken is fascinating.

Chewing leads to a discussion of saliva, and we learn "Bodily fluids, gas and excrement may disgust us once they leave the body, but "we are large, mobile vessels of the very substances we find most repulsive." We learn a lot about 'gas', it's make-up, smell, testing, who makes the most gas, farting, and on and on. Megacolon, the large bowel dilatation that causes much straining to release it's contents and can cause cardiac arrhythmia and death, as it probably did for Elvis Presley. Mary Roach spent a great deal of time in her research for this book, traveling the world.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Top, Down and Under... April 1, 2013
Format:Hardcover
Digestive system of the human body is the link to a healthy body and healthy mind. Mary has been able to capture the working knowledge of the digestive system in a very simple language which is very informative especially if you happen to be a health freak. Nothing good in life is possible without a healthy body especially a healthy digestive system since that is where we get all our vitamins and minerals needed to build, nurture, repair and rejuvinate the rest of our body. Being in many different sports especially hiking and mountain biking, the first thing that I learned was that saliva is the best antibiotic available for all my cuts and scabs. Infact, individuals who do not have enough saliva in their mouth due to genetics or medications taken for any chronic disease like blood pressure, end up with a dry mouth and tooth decay. In Gulp, Mary offers knowledge for digestive system from saliva to all the way down to anus. Mary has interviewed many individuals from scientist to hard core criminals who have a scientific to actual knowledge of their digestive system in carrying different items inside prison cells without being detected. Mary even discusses fart. If you want to learn about your digestive system, there is much to be learned here. Bravo.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Not happy being overcharged by owner
The book arrived barely within the time expected, but in good condition as indicated. The invoice inside the book stated the book cost $9.95 plus $.75 tax for a NEW book. Read more
Published 22 hours ago by karen Sutton
5.0 out of 5 stars Always funny and greatly informative
Her frequent ventures down "rabbit holes" of related material provide both insight and bizarre facts (of which the average reader is entirely unaware! Read more
Published 1 day ago by Melanie E. Daniel
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy on the scatological humor
This book wallows in feces and other human output. It's very informative, but well beyond what I really care about. The jokes are consistently too clever by half. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Gila Svirsky
5.0 out of 5 stars Mary Roach takes us on a tour from soup to ..(oh, nuts)
Absolutely fascinating story about something with which we are all acquainted but never really know. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Kevin J. Ashley
3.0 out of 5 stars not her best work
I really like Mary Roach. She typically takes some taboo but fascinating topic (sex, death, poop), does some decent research on it, then presents it all to us with a light, funny,... Read more
Published 2 days ago by C. P. Anderson
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings
I had a very hard time getting into this book. It was a selection for a book club. The beginning chapters did not hold my interest and often helped me fall asleep at night. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Glenna PW
3.0 out of 5 stars She flippantly and gleefully has blown right past the line of creepy
Maybe I'm just done with Mary Roach (... or perhaps I've read too many 3-star books in a row). Her patented gold-formula is on full display within her newest soft science travel... Read more
Published 3 days ago by David Gaston
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful and interesting read.
Interesting at the start, but fascinating as you get drawn into it. Never knew that such an interest existed in so many experts. Corrects quite a few misconceptions that I had. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Edmund V. F. Schenke
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable science writing!
Mary Roach is well known as perhaps the funniest science writer in the world. Any topic or historical event related to the digestive system is fair game in this book. Read more
Published 7 days ago by StanEvolve
1.0 out of 5 stars .
It was an informative book but I'm not sure I needed to know all of it. Mary did a lot of research.
Published 8 days ago by Barbara Scanlon
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