“Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans of War” by Mary Roach (Norton, 2016)


Mary Roach has wowed her addictive readers with corpses (Stiff), sex (Bonk), and life in space (Packing for Mars). In Grunt she delves into a new arena with the world of the military and the science behind it that protects them in every way possible.

Roach begins with the military combat uniform and its development over time. The author does her job – as usual – as she delves back into America’s military past providing shocking and insightful tidbits, leading up to the current model. She dedicates entire chapters to combat medics, how the military and technology works with extreme heat, how to deal with excessive noise, military vehicles and how they are developed to protect the soldier in every conceivable situation.

The two chapters that are the most moving and poignant of the book are “Below the Belt” and “It Could Get Weird.” With the disturbing evolution of improvised explosive devices or IEDs, the number of men coming back from the front lines alive but often maimed and mutilated below the waist has increased significantly. Often IEDs go off beneath vehicles or from a low vantage point beneath the person causing the explosion to go upward and usually in the groin area. This had led to an astonishing and impressive development in penis reconstruction and genital transplants. Roach goes into fascinating detail with this line of medicine and surgery, as well as the slower development in therapy and helping these injured veterans in living their lives with their families again.

The book ends with a sobering chapter on the autopsies performed on the fallen men and women in action and how they are learning from this to help those soldiers fighting on the front lines.

With most of Mary Roach’s books there is a learning curve, but in Grunt the author learns and develops along with the reader as the military is one of those facets of our society that most of us are not brave enough to be a part of, and sometimes – perhaps often – take it for granted in the incredible daily job those women and men do, and know very little about. Grunt does a great job of educating us on this.

Originally written on July 12, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

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