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Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War 1st Edition
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- Washington Post
“From the ever-illuminating author of Bonk and Stiff comes an examination of the science behind war. Even the tiniest minutiae count on the battlefield, and Roach leads us through her discoveries in her inimitable style.”
“Our most consistently entertaining science journalist…Roach goes where other writers wouldn’t dare….And her search produces images―a kind of technopoetry―that are hard to forget.”
- O Magazine
“[Roach] takes on the challenges the military faces to keep its fighters safe and healthy with her trademark flair (and zingy footnotes).”
- Entertainment Weekly
“Roach is a tenacious investigative journalist with an appetite for the unappetizing...Grunt ranks high in the Roach repertoire.”
- USA Today
“Mary Roach’s latest bit of brilliance….As meticulously researched, beautifully written, and disturbingly funny as her previous books…Grunt examines the science behind war, as well as the researchers who are leading the charge in these state-of- the-art developments. Roach’s prose is a triumph―an engaging blend of anecdote, research, and reflection.”
- Boston Globe
“[Roach] writes exquisitely about the excruciating….wildly informative and vividly written”
- Los Angeles Times
“Nobody does weird science quite like [Roach], and this time, she takes on war. Though all her books look at the human body in extreme situations (sex! space! death!), this isn’t simply a blood-drenched affair. Instead, Roach looks at the unexpected things that take place behind the scenes.”
“Roach...applies her tenacious reporting and quirky point of view to efforts by scientists to conquer some of the soldier’s worst enemies.”
- Seattle Times
“Extremely likable…and quick with a quip….[Roach’s] skill is to draw out the good humor and honesty of both the subjects and practitioners of these white arts among the dark arts of war.”
- San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
- Item Weight : 8 ounces
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393354377
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393354379
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (June 6, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #49,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Military science under the microscope
Now, in Grunt, her latest book, Roach has turned her attention to military science, specifically the science-based efforts by the U.S. defense establishment to clothe, train, armor, and heal our soldiers, sailors, and airmen and protect them from every manner of wound and loss of function. Unfamiliar and uncomfortable topics such as battlefield hearing loss, shark repellent, bird strikes on airplanes, diarrhea, and penis implantation figure in the story. (The only major topic she avoids is PTSD, because, she writes, “it has had so much [coverage], and so much of it is so very good.”) Roach tells her tale with brutal honesty — and leavens it with an abundance of humor. Some passages are laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe what’s wrong with Mary Roach is that her sense of humor is so much better developed than it is in the rest of us. In any case, I love what she writes.
Unless you are remarkably knowledgeable about the U.S. military, you’re likely to learn a great deal about how it actually works by reading Grunt.
*** Consider, for example, the years-long investigation carried out by the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) team of the United States Air Force. You’ll learn why shooting chickens out of a sixty-foot “chicken gun” at 400 miles per hour to test their impact on aircraft in flight was eventually deemed unsuitable. The scientists shifted to turkey vultures. As Roach informs us, “Though implicated in only 1 percent of Air Force birdstrikes, the weighty raptors are, by one accounting, responsible for 40 percent of the damage.” Serious people actually spent years figuring all this out!
*** You’ll learn why the Army’s clothing designers crafted custom-designed tops for snipers, with pockets on the sleeves for easy access, a zipper on the side instead of the front, and no buttons, so that when lying on the ground or crawling across it their buttons won’t catch or the zipper make noise that might give away their position. (FYI, “US government button specifications run to twenty-two pages. This fact on its own yields a sense of what it is like to design garments for the Army.”) Can you imagine any army, anywhere else in the world, that would go to such lengths to outfit its troops?
“In a place like Afghanistan,” Roach writes, “sweat keeps more people alive than corpsmen do.” The explanation (in Chapter 7) is fascinating.
You get the point. Military science can be fun — at least, reading about it can.
About the author
Mary Roach has written eight books of science journalism. Her work has garnered several awards and been shortlisted for many more. Her books have been bestsellers from the start, beginning with her first effort, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
Some of the topics are how to protect soldiers from IEDs when riding in troop carriers; the effect of noise on soldiers; training for medics; treatment of genital mutilation as a result of battle; diarrhea; shark repellent; and the effect of irregular sleep patterns for submariners.
A big problem in battle is the kicking in of the "fight or flight response" which makes one "fast, strong, and dumb"; [Loc 1294] while this response kept primitive man alive "when threats took the form of man-eating mammals, when hurling a rock superhumanly hard or climbing a tree superhumanly fast gave you the edge that might keep you alive." [Loc 1294] "The technical term for f***in' tunnel vision is attentional narrowing. It's another prehistorically helpful but now potentially disastrous feature of the survival stress response. One focuses on the threat to the exclusion of almost everything else."[Loc 1378] This can be a problem for a medic trying to help a Marine in the middle of battle. The resulting reduction of fine motor skills is a big problem for medics who are working with the "growing sophistication and miniaturization of medical equipment." Add to this the motions and vibrations of a medevac flight, and you start to gain an appreciation for the military medic's challenges." [ Loc 1294] Of course the military has a way of training medics to deal with this - which she takes part in and describes.
Mary Roach sticks up for scientists' contributions to the military. When talking about a Sergeant supporting the needs of platoon; she argues that s/he needs to have a wealth of information. "I agree that squad leaders are in the best position to know what and how much their men and women need to bring on a given mission. But you want those squad leaders to be armed with knowledge, and not all knowledge comes from experience. Sometimes it comes from a pogue at USUHS who's been investigating the specific and potentially deadly consequences of a bodybuilding supplement [which is used A LOT in the military] Or an army physiologist who puts men adrift in life rafts off the dock at a Florida air base and discovers that wetting your uniform cools you enough to conserve 74 percent more of your body fluids per hour."[Loc 1705]
Through it all Mary writes with her trademark dry wit. When discussing the impact of diarrhea on soldiers she talks about the venue for discussing the topic at lunch after training: "The tables in the hangar-size Dorie are arranged church-basement-style, in log rows, so there's always a friendly stranger across from you or at your elbow, someone new with whom to chat about loose bowel movements while you eat."]Loc 1772]
Mary Roach usually keeps a distance from her subject (and subjects) through her irony and dry wit. But what I especially like about this book is her warmer approach to the people she is writing about; while still keeping her humor. Humor can be used to keep a subject at arm's distance; but here, she is bring them closer. "I'm adjusting to the concept of a 'casualty collection point,'to the horrible fact that there can be enough casualties for a 'collection'."l [Loc 1660]
All-in-all this is my favorite of her books I've read. She brings her standard approach of tireless and detailed analysis of how science and technology is applied to critical elements of our lives."
Top reviews from other countries
Some of the institutes are developing new medical and surgical techniques to treat seriously wounded soldiers, who in former times would be considered hopeless cases, such as those with major trauma injuries caused by the infamous IEDs in the Iraq wars. So we learn for example about progress in penis reconstruction and genital implants. But there is also information about research into more mundane conditions such as sleep deprivation, heat exhaustion and diarrhoea. The latter historically has decimated armies, and even today is a major problem where fresh water is not available. One institute teaches submariners how to escape safely if their ship is disabled at great depths (counter intuitively, holding your breath when ascending means certain death); another trains military medics to overcome a host of problems when treating the wounded while under fire. While the range of topics being studied is vast and most of obvious use, some initially sound bizarre, such as the experiments to find out what food bears like to eat, whether sharks really are attracted to human flesh (it turns out that if you are shipwrecked in seas inhabited by sharks, they are well down your list of worries) and the extraordinary ‘chicken gun’ that fires dead chickens at over 400mph at jet planes to test their ability to survive bird strikes.
One of the most moving parts of the book is the chapter devoted to autopsies of dead servicemen, who are brought to the autopsy room just as they died, including any equipment attached to them as part of the attempts to keep them alive. The point here is to learn not just how they died in battle in order develop better defences to protect them, but also to examine the adequacy of medical procedures after they were wounded. What other country has the will and resources to be so thorough?
Mary Roach has done a considerable service by producing this short and informative book on a subject that many of us are ignorant about, and even are content with that. She has done this in a way that is readable and reminds us that conflicts have consequences long after hostilities have ceased.
In this book, we get a behind the scenes coverage of the science behind the war. And the people who try to keep soldiers alive or patch them up to the best of their abilities. How such a subject can make you cry from laughter is truly her unique gift!
Ridiculously well researched.
A treasured book