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The Body: A Guide for Occupants Hardcover – Illustrated, October 15, 2019
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From the Publisher
"Delightful. . .Reveals the thousands of rarely acknowledged tasks our body takes care of as we go about our day. . .Informative, entertaining and often gross (kissing, according to one study, transfers up to one billion bacteria from one mouth to another, along with 0.2 micrograms of food bits). . . Bryson, who gives off a Cronkite-like trustworthy vibe, is good at allaying fears and busting myths.” —A.J. Jacobs, The New York Times Book Review
"Mr. Bryson’s latest book is a Baedeker of the human body, a fact-studded survey of our physiques, inside and out. Many authors have produced such guides in recent years, and some of them are very good. But none have done it quite so well as Mr. Bryson, who writes better, is more amusing and has greater mastery of his material than anyone else. . .[He] is a master explainer, with a gift for the pithy simile and all-encompassing metaphor. . .[His] love of language is often on display, and he can’t resist occasional indulgences on the origins of terms medical and anatomical. . .Mr. Bryson’s account is enlivened by his excellent command of the history of medicine. . .Brisk, provocative and entertaining throughout." —The Wall Street Journal
"Bryson launches himself into the wilderness of the human anatomy armed with his characteristic thoroughness and wit. He ably dissects the knowns and unknowns of how we live and die and all the idiosyncrasies of our shared infrastructure. . .This book is full of such arresting factoids and, like a douser hunting water, Bryson is adept at finding the bizarre and the arcane in his subject matter. . .Amazing." —USA Today
"A witty, informative immersion. . .The Body—a delightful, anecdote-propelled read—proves one of his most ambitious yet, as he leads us on a head-to-toe tour of a physique that’s terra incognita to many of us. . .Playful, lucid. . .[Bryson] cover[s] a remarkably large swathe of human corporeal and cerebral experience." —The Boston Globe
"A directory of wonders. . .Extraordinary. . . A tour of the minuscule; it aims to do for the human body what his A Short History of Nearly Everything did for science. . .The prose motors gleefully along, a finely tuned engine running on jokes, factoids and biographical interludes. . .Wry, companionable, avuncular and always lucid . . .[The Body] could stand as an ultimate prescription for life." —The Guardian
"A delightful tour guide. . .Bryson's stroll through human anatomy, physiology, evolution, and illness (diabetes, cancer, infections) is instructive, accessible, and entertaining." —Booklist, starred review
"Amusingly informative." —Forbes
"A pleasing, entertaining sojourn into the realm of what makes us tick." —Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
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If this book doesn’t pique your interest in how your body works, then nothing probably will. Bryson takes the reader through each body system, describing the anatomy and physiology of each, but also providing historical information, expert interviews, and biographical details on the pioneers of medical discovery. Bryson, as usual, writes in an informative and entertaining way, presenting information in clever ways (for example, when he states that a portion of your cerebral cortex the size of a grain of sand can hold 1.2 billion copies of this book.) The book is filled with calculations and analogies like this to help the reader better contextualize the information.
I also appreciate how Bryson doesn’t mindlessly repeat the cliches we always here without doing his research. It’s commonly stated that we only use 10 percent of our brains, or that our body contains 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells. It turns out that these statements, among many others, are false, and Bryson shows you why. He doesn’t take anything for granted and researches all such claims.
You will also come to understand—not only how much you don’t understand about the body—but also how much of the body no one understands. The body is unfathomably complex, and many areas and functions remain mysterious.
If I had to say anything negative about the book, it would be the lack of illustrations. Some diagrams would be helpful, especially on the sections covering anatomy, as it’s hard to visualize the structures as he’s describing them. Also, don’t expect to dive too deeply into the functioning of each body system—the details are selective and you’re going to get equal measures of the history behind the discoveries. This is not a bad thing, as long as you’re expecting it.
Overall, this is probably the best popular book on the subject, and a good entry point for further study in anatomy, physiology, human evolution, or medicine.
It’s important for readers to know that the book takes a modern scientific and not a creator based approach to humanity. While amazed by the feats of engineering evolution has accomplished over the eons, Bryson also points out design flaws or parts that any intelligent engineer would have done better.
The style is not didactic, however, but typical of a Bill Bryson book—wry, frequently going off on tangents about a particular disease or an anecdote about an eccentric scientist. The book covers so much ground that it too is somewhat anecdotal. It really is less a comprehensive guide to the body and more a combination of anatomy 101 with many tales from past and present scientific endeavors.
In short, if you need a complete guide to human physiology this is probably not a thorough enough source. But if you simply want to expand your knowledge of anatomy with an engaging read you can’t go wrong.
I wouldn’t call the book a classic because so much is still unknown about human physiology that it will have to be thoroughly rewritten in ten years. But it does have some of the markings of a good work of literature—like an imagined world in a novel, one gets the sense that Bryson has a much deeper understanding of the human body than he sets down on the page. In other words, he could’ve written a one thousand page book if he had wanted to.
A rare combination of lively writing with an interesting and important subject. It’s hard to think of personal leisure time devoted to something more useful and enjoyable than in reading this book. Highly recommended.
Top international reviews
I appreciate that this is a very personal reaction and that others will find it both educational and rewarding - just not me.
Sorry Bill, I'm normally a great fan.
As a 'fact geek', almost every page included an item that triggered my "I must remember that" reflex although, of course, I won't. I learned a great deal and am dismayed at how many of the urban myths, now utterly discredited, I had believed. Also, as someone with a poor lifestyle, this book might, actually, be the catalyst to actually make me do something as the number of times that the greatest killer turns out to be 'lifestyle' is staggering.
Don't be fooled by the '% read' figure at the bottom of the Kindle page as the actual book ends at about 70% and the remainder is photos and bibliography. If you have any inclination at all to an inquiring mind or are just curious, this is the book for you.
So, what do we think about our most intimate possession, our body? As Bryson considers, "We pass our existence within this warm wobble of flesh and yet take it entirely for granted." So do I. How true! Bryson, maintaining his usual expertise (à la "A Short History of Nearly Everything"), writes the book in an entertaining yet informative way. Our body is not only a complex subject, this is mysterious to say the least. And I've learned so much through this book.
So, I've long owned a machine (well, so much more than a machine, though) without a User's Manual, and at last I've laid my hands on one. You should, too.
(Doubleday Hardcover edition, Penguin Books)
And as we might expect from Bryson, it’s an absolutely fascinating & compelling book. Each chapter explores a different organ of the body, ranging across facts & functions, the development of knowledge historically through trial & error, inspiration & guesswork & just plain chance. No matter how complex the subject under discussion it is always written in an accessible way: everything you knew, thought you knew & things you never dreamed of....or would rather not know.
5 out of 6 smokers won’t get lung cancer; nevertheless smoking is a cause of cancer.
Because it retains some oxygenated blood, a decapitated head may retain consciousness for a few seconds.
When we are touched the brain doesn’t just tell us what we feel, but what we ought to feel. Depending on who or what is touching us.
The only opportunity Heimlich had to use the anti-choking manoeuvre he invented was in very old age.
Human beings have a tendency to choke as a result of the inefficient arrangement of the oesophagus & the trachea.
Immaculately researched, leavened with Bryson’s trade- mark humour & humanity, this is a positive cornucopia of interest. Cannot recommend highly enough.
But not for the squeamish.
Bryson's 'Complete History of Nearly Everything ' actually strengthened my spiritual beliefs rather than the reverse; backing up some long-believed myths with modern science and finally relegating others to the bin.
This book's a bit like that - the text, delivered in chunks of rather bald fact -goes deeper than you think.
There are chapters on every part of the human physical form. For example, skin, skeleton, brain, digestion, sex organs. There are more chapters on The working of The human body - sleep, and digestion. Finally there are insights, bang up to date, on conditions and diseases - blindness, cancer, e.g. et al. The one on skin, confirming in black and white just how little we differ below the surface, found its way, by virtue of several quotes, into a racism trial in London just this month.
This book lacks the wit and humour of some of Bill's others and I considered giving it four stars; but you know, it sticks. I read it a bit at a time, and I might just go back for a second round.
Prepare to be amazed, to laugh, to become utterly absorbed - and to thank, profusely, whoever bought you this book. And if that's you, then give yourself a pat on the back.