- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (June 6, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393354377
- ISBN-13: 978-0393354379
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 561 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War 1st Edition
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“A mirthful, informative peek behind the curtain of military science.”
- 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
Mary Roach is the author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Her writing has appeared in Outside, Wired, National Geographic, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.
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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.
She's at her best the further away she is from the battlefield and in the socially-awkward schtick she pulls off so well, such as cornering a SF soldier in a chow hall about diarrhea. She creates herself as an endearing dork, and, honestly, I love it, because her curious dorkitude is something her fans relate to, almost personally.
The only critique I have of this book is it's too short. There's SO much to be said about sleep, and so many other topics to think and write about (nothing on the airborne?!) that it felt a bit thin, though I'm sure it's not. I rather suspect it's a matter of who would allow her access and for what.
If you already like her work, this is another solid addition to your reading list. It might be a good intro to new readers who are interested in the topic (loosely, military science), though I'm not sure that some of the chapters would make it a big seller with families of soldiers and sailors. For me, a veteran, I kept quietly laughing at the examples of military bureaucratic bulls***--so very little of which has changed since I was in!
Her latest, clearly, focuses on the efforts behind the military machine. More importantly, the efforts to meet the concerns of warfare and the concerns of the bodies that move that war machine. Whether it be concerns about body armor, genital injuries or sleep cycles on submarines, Roach gets in with the scientists and the soldiers involved to not only divulge the subject itself but spotlight the people involved. What the problem is is as much a focus as Who is working on it. Scientists who mix their metaphors or who can work unfazed by the pounding of bombs nearby. She gets fascinated by the minutiae necessary to this line of work. How to convince a Navy SEAL that anti-diarrheals aren't the coward's way out of a problem? Roach gets deep into the muck of daily soldiering and the problems of BO that come up along the way.
This isn't my favorite of her books, as it gets rather episodic under its own banner and doesn't carry the kind of genius narrative arc like her books Stiff and Packing for Mars did, that by learning about the use of cadavers in medical science or the concerns involved in a manned Mars mission we are learning about the human condition itself, but who can expect that kind of genius in every book? Even Dostoevsky had to admit not every book could be a Brothers K. Roach is case and point that the pursuit of science is at its heart another form of the humanities.