Monday, April 27, 2020

The Body: A Guide for Occupants

Title:  The Body
Author:  Bill Bryson
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2019. 464 pages.
ISBN:  0385539304 / 978-0385539302

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Long ago, when I was a junior high school student in Iowa, I remember being taught by a biology teacher that all the chemicals that make up a human body could be bought in a hardware store for $5.00 or something like that."

Favorite Quote:  "The paradox of genetics is that we are all very different and yet genetically practically identical."

The word miracle is found only ten times in a search of an e-book version of The Body. Yet, it seems to me to be the central theme of this work. "That is the miracle of life. We pass our existence with this warm bobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted." What makes this theme more interesting is that it accompanies a book that is science-driven and at times makes comments on how aspects of the body could have or should have been better engineered. This is a book not about faith but yet centered on the idea of a miracle.

Bill Bryson sets out this foundation and then creates a lesson in all the amazing things about the human body that are taken for granted from birth to death. It delves into all the things that function together to make life possible and the things that can go very, very wrong. "The miracle of human life is not that we are endowed with some frailties but that we aren't swamped with them." The book highlights all the things about the body that are understood and all the many more that are still a mystery.

The book begins with a humbling thought. "That is unquestionably the most astounding thing about us - that we are just a collection of inert components, the same stuff you would find in a pile of dirt. I've said it before in another book but I believe it's worth repeating:  the only thing special about the elements that make you is that they make you. That is the miracle of life."

The book then goes through twenty-three chapters through various aspects of our bodies - the brain, chemistry, immune system, food, birth, and the appropriately named final chapter - The End. Through each chapter are numerous facts, scientific anecdotes, and social commentary. At the end of the book is a thorough set of notes on sources and an extensive bibliography.

As with Bill Bryson's other books, this one has very much the feel of a journey through the body. Like a journey, the book does seem to take side trips throughout, wandering to many aspects related to the topic at hand. One of my favorite aspects of sharing any journey are pictures. That is something this book is lacking. It contains no illustrations, which would have been beneficial. At the same time, would that then have made the book more like a textbook? I did find myself looking up some illustrations, but that did not lessen my enjoyment of the book.

Presumably, you would only pick up this book if you are interested in the topic. So, I am predisposed to like it. As a reader in a non-scientific profession, I do not see myself reading scientific or academic journals and textbooks. Yet, I am interested in learning more. This book finds the perfect balance of being easy to read yet full of researched information which adds credibility and provides resources for those wishing to delve deeper. For me, this "trip" through the human body is well worth the time.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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