- 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: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,059 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal First Edition Edition
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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
*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
Top customer reviews
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.
By Mary Roach
Though author Roach was recently called "America's funniest science writer" (Washington Post) she is not a scientist and claims that she often times has to fake her way through interviews with the experts. This alone was enough of an endorsement to get my attention, yet I've read her work before and pretty much knew what I was in for. Or did I?
Though author Roach starts off with a non-alimentary canal location (the nose) it's quickly explained that it is through the process of smell that we eat what we do, not necessarily because of how it tastes. Eighty to Ninety percent, to be exact. And on she travels, down our inner tubing, splashing next into the stomach. Since mine is on the sensitive side, I paid close attention to this particular chapter, before moving on down.
"...stomachs can digest themselves. Gastric acid and pepsin digest the cells of the stomach's protective layer quite effectively...the organ swiftly rebuilds what it breaks down. A healthy adult has a new stomach lining every three days."
Food for thought indeed.
The author offers tons of interesting facts, figures and things to consider, here are just a few; Laundry detergent is essentially a digestive tract in a box, fecal transplants can cure intractable C. diff infection, internal cleansings are very unhealthy, humans secrete two types of saliva--stimulated and un-stimulated and Elvis did not die of an overdose. I'm not telling, you'll have to read this baby to find out the truth.
Over the years, as you can well imagine, many, in the name of science, came up with all sorts of reasons why and how the body digested food and ways to help the process along. Take Horace Fletcher, the nut-case who instigated a famous fad for extreme over-chewing called Fletcherizing. He suggested that the best and most efficient way to get the biggest buck from every bite was to chew one's food until it was completely liquefied. Talk about long lunches!
Then author Roach researched the famous surgeon William Beaumont's case proving once and for all how little chewing is needed to digest most foods completely. It was done under rather unsavory conditions, but makes for some fascinating after-lunch reading.
Trust me, read it after.
She also delves into stuffing yourself for a living, using the lower intestine to transport items, nose-picking frequency and the history of flatulence research (you won't believe the ending).
"If things go as they should, the bacteria hysteria so lucratively nurtured by the likes of Purell and Lysol will begin to subside."
According to Roach, Bacteria is what keeps our system literally chugging along, without it, well, things that should move on and out (think grown children) can turn into all sorts of discomforts. She does hop around a great deal and touches on pet food science for some bizarre reason, but overall this is a hilarious as well as informing read.
"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 book will give you much to chew on.
You'll learn something new about digestion, even though this is a topic that seems to be all over the media. I found this book to be a great indulgence and wonderful curiosity.
Get it. Read it, if only to offer you something interesting to talk about on the plane, train, or at bland dinner parties.