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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
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220 of 223 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 2, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified 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. We learn about the importance of saliva, all about acid reflux, and the various problems associated with indigestion among many, many other topics. We even learn why Elvis died, and yes it was on the toilet. We even hear a theory why people believed in dragons; and yes it has to do reptiles with gas and combustion. We find out why we don't digest our own stomachs (well, while we're alive) and whether or not animals other than parasites can survive being swallowed and even forcibly make their way out.

It's difficult to give a fair summary to this book because it covers so much. This may be favorite book of hers since Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and like that book this book will literally have you laughing out loud. For example, in trying to avoid the embarrassment of releasing intestinal gas, she writes:

"Or perhaps to take the advice of a gastroenterologist I know: get a dog. (To blame.)"

As a person who has GERD (acid reflux) and has spent time in the hospital for an episode of intestinal blockage (worst pain, ever), I was especially interested in this topic. But I think it's really something that would interest everyone. You will learn a lot and you will laugh a lot and you will end up wanting to make friends with this author because she is so amusing and so personable.

Highly recommended. You just have to read the first few pages to see if this is something you would enjoy. I read this in one sitting; it was not only entertaining but I'm smarter for having read it.
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77 of 86 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle EditionVerified 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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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified 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. Somehow she knew what questions to ask, who to meet, what experiments to take part in.

This really is one of the best books I have read this year. I am a mystery lover, and this book has uncovered mysteries I never knew existed.

"Most of us pass our lives never once laying eyes on our organs, the most precious and amazing things we own. Until something goes wrong, we barely give them thought. This seems strange to me. It is, of course, possible that I seem strange. You may be thinking, 'Wow, that Mary Roach has her head up her a**.' To which I say, 'Only briefly, and with the utmost respect!" Mary in her own words!

Highly Recommended. prisrob 04-07-13
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Mary Roach's new book "Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal" is like her previous works, a witty look at a science subject. She's covered death, sex, and space travel, among other topics. In "Gulp", she takes on - gulp - our alimentary canal and looks at what goes in and what comes out.

Mary Roach is a "hands on" researcher of the subjects she writes about. And in "Gulp", Roach travels the world, talking to doctors and scientists about the ins and outs of the digestive system. She begins by talking about how food "appeals" to the eater through taste and smell. Then she travels downward through the body, talking about problems like constipation and acid reflux, which many people suffer from. She skips around her subject, though, which is the only complaint I have about the book. From rectal smuggling of small radios, razor blades, and drugs, both in - and out - of jails, to Elvis and his death, to impacted colons, Roach flutters from subject to subject.

Roach is not afraid to use the words in her book about bodily functions that I cannot use here in my review. No serious reader will choose to read "Gulp", in lieu of a medical textbook on the subject, but for the curious reader, Roach has written an interesting - if sometimes scattered - look at our basic plumbing. It's the kind of book that may push the interested reader to seek out more about the subject. And that's what's so good about Mary Roach's writing; the reader can take what's given and learn from it, or be stirred on to more serious reading.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Bought as a drunk Amazon book purchase, and when it arrived with tanning lotion and a bathing suit a size too small (clearly trying to tell myself something when drunk), started reading and then DEVOURED this book. Completely totally worth it. Crazy interesting and exceptionally well-written. I've never written an Amazon review in my life, but I'm legit recommending this book to everyone I know.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
My review, in two words: don't bother.

After I heard Mary Roach discussing GULP during a Radiolab podcast, I really wanted to read it. She was talking about the symbiotic relationship we have with bacteria that inhabit our intestines and colon, and the podcast was fascinating and disgusting and informative. A really wonderful mix. I read STIFF a while back and enjoyed it, so I started GULP with high hopes.

All dashed.

GULP supposed to be about nourishment, about eating and excreting, about how important and undevalued our 'alimentary canal' is. It starts with the mouth and ends with the butt, and every chapter is a little more disgusting than the last. There's a whole chapter about fecal transplants, and if you're like me, that's a hook that will make you reach for the buy button.

I understand that this is pop science, pop non-fiction, that the purpose of a book like GULP is to entertain as well as inform. But GULP is so light it's in danger of floating away in a stiff breeze. Roach talks about sitting at a bar with this specialist, or visiting the home of that specialist, but instead of delving into the subjects those specialists understand so well, she pads the book with descriptions of the funny accent one speaks with, the video game the other's son plays. She cracks jokes about doctors with funny names (repeatedly, and it started to make me really mad -- we don't choose our names) and even describes looking at a page of Google search results. I did not buy GULP for the fascinating tale of how Mary Roach travels all around the world learning things for the book she's going to write, but I really did not buy it for the fascinating tale of how she sits at home and Googles things.

Along the same lines: she regularly cites the titles of scholarly articles she read while researching GULP and jokes about how cumbersome they can be. As often as not, she never touches on the actual content of these articles. Roach seems to have abandoned any attempt to translate that information for the reader, to make it clear and comprehensible. Instead she invites us to join her in a conspiratorial snicker at the expense of academics.

That is the exact opposite of what I want from a work of non-fiction.

There's some interesting stuff in here, buried in all the padding. But not enough. I wanted more information. I wanted to be satisfied, and I wasn't.
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46 of 59 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have all of Ms. Roach's books, but this is not the best of them. She has an affinity for odd facts, strange research, and the quirky people who immerse their lives in things that most of us either don't think about, or don't want to think about. Her best books are fascinating and laugh-out-loud funny, but "Gulp" is only mildly interesting and passably amusing. The best chapter, in my opinion, is the one on pet food - how can manufacturers create something that will smell and taste great to dogs and cats, but won't offend owners in the bowl or the litter box? Yes, much of this book details things that might seem gross. The best thing about food is eating it...the rest of the way our body processes it can be pretty icky. I'm not sure what's missing that might have made this a better book. Perhaps it's simply that the topic doesn't have universal appeal. Her last book, "Packing for Mars", was riveting and hilarious, but most Americans are fascinated by the space program. How many people are fascinated by the esophagus, small intestine or rectum? If you have never read anything by the author, I'd highly recommend "Stiff" (about what happens to dead bodies), "Spook" (researching the afterlife, if any), but "Gulp" isn't a good place to start. If you're a fan of Ms. Roach, as I am, "Gulp" is worth reading but not necessarily in a purchased hardcover. Wait for the paperback or go to the library instead.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is the first Mary Roach book I've read and I certainly will not be seeking out her other works. Roach tackles an awkward subject (what happens to your food: from first sniff to excretion) and makes it interesting. Gulp was interesting and information, but 90% of Roach's jokes should have been left out. She's trying too hard. "primordial soup*" "Not a Campbell's variety." Really? That needed to be footnoted? Who's her audience, third graders? Dr. Whitehead--he should be a dermatologist. Yuck, yuck. I'm in town all week; tip your waitress.

In spite of her bad puns, weak double entendres, and tired cliches (a chapter of jokes about her husband farting) and the terrible format (taking your eyes off the page to read these gems in the footnotes) I did finish the book and found it informative.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
There has been a lot of hype about this book, and my turn finally came up at the library. It was a quick read. Amusing at times. Stronger on anecdote than information.

I was disappointed. I thought I'd learn more. She skipped the esophagus and pretty much the small intestine. :) What she did discuss was mostly in terms of stories.

The pun is very important to her. She did find some interesting people in the field, Dr. Crapo, for example. I like stories and I like humor, but I expected a lot more information than I got.
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