Top positive review
Best introduction to the complexity of the human body available
Reviewed in the United States on October 16, 2019
If you’d like to learn more about how the body works but don’t want to read textbooks on human anatomy and physiology, this is the book for you. As Bryson writes, “We pass our existence within this warm wobble of flesh and yet take it entirely for granted.” We are the product of three billion years of evolutionary refinement, a biological machine of unimagined complexity, and yet most of us can’t even identify where the spleen is, or what it does.
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.