Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal 1st Edition, Kindle Edition
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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.
"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
Here's one passage, from a discussion on the colon's drying (constipating) effect:
"Follow each call to the stool. Or, in the words of a British physician quoted in _Inner Hygiene_, James Whorton's excellent and scholarly* history of constipation, 'Allow nothing short of fire or endangered life to induce you to resist...nature's alvine call.'
"*Seriously, published by Oxford University Press. But highly readable. So much so that the person who took _Inner Hygiene_ out of the UC Berkeley library before me had read it on New Year's Eve. I know this because she'd left behind her bookmark -- a receipt from a Pinole, California, In-N-Out Burger dated December 30, 2010 -- and because every so often as I read, I'd come upon bits of glitter. Had she brought the book along to a party, ducking into a side room to read about rectal dilators and slanted toilets as the party swirled around her? Or had she brought it to bed with her at 2 a.m., glitter falling from her hair as she read? If you know this girl, tell her I like her style."
Mary Roach, I like YOUR style!