This was excellent, but…
That’s pretty much my review of this book. It was excellent—funny and informative—and yet, there are so many warnings necessary before I could possibly recommend this to anyone else.
I read Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers some years back and enjoyed it a lot. It was funny and educational and oddball and also kind of gross but mostly that just made me get all picky about what I want to have done with my body after I die. I had not expected adventures in the alimentary canal to be significantly grosser than a recounting of the things that can and do happen to bodies after death. Oh, how wrong I was! Gulp got incredibly gross, and I am now hyper conscious of my bowels. I can only hope that awareness disperses after I move on to another book.
Second: I have to warn about animal harm. So. Much. Animal. Harm! You know how people have learned about the digestive track over the centuries? Largely by doing really unpleasant things to animals. Do you know what vivisection is? If you don’t, then count your blessings and don’t ask.* If you do, well, if you read this book, you’ll know a lot more about it. The people at the dog food factory loved their dog taste-testers and treated them extremely well. I cling to the fact that there are people here who love their animals. Because all the other animals mentioned in this book came to gruesome ends.
Moving on, I was surprised about how Roach didn’t spend much time on the intestines. She started at scent and taste an swallowing, moved on to the stomach, and then dealt with digestive juices, but then moved on to the colon (and stayed there for a really long time) but I didn’t really think the small and large intestines got their fair share of time. On the other hand, this isn’t exactly intended as a textbook. Maybe she just couldn’t find the same number of stories—horrifying and hilarious—for that particular section of anatomy as she could for the rest.
Finally, while I listed to this in audiobook format, I think it probably works better read in a traditional book format. There were a fair number of footnotes that discussed tangential issues and it was occasionally difficult to track the divergence and subsequent return to the regular text.
So, if my various warnings haven’t put you off too much, then I do recommend this book. It is hilarious and I have learned things that I never would have expected.
* I first learned of vivisection from a book in which the bad guys did it and the good guy was Jack the Ripper. Let that give you some perspective.