“Gulp” by Mary Roach (Norton, 2013)

Gulp
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Mary Roach, bestselling author of Stiff and Bonk, brings her host of avid non-fiction readers to a whole new arena with Gulp.  Welcome to the alimentary canal, a politely titled journey from a single bite passing through our bodies into the toilet bowl.  Just as with her other books, Roach employs her patented humor and obsession for the detailed and at times gross.

Unsurprisingly, Roach begins with the mouth and taste and the importance of the sense of smell with taste.  She recounts her meeting with a person whose job is to taste wines and beers that are “off” in some way.  This person has such a developed and trained palate, she knows what has been done wrong in the fermenting of the beer, or the preparation of the wine.  Roach then continues on down the gullet with succinct chapters on each part, providing lots of details of how it all works, what the process is, and plenty of facts you might have never wanted to know about your throat, or stomach, or intestine.  But the book is also bursting with lots of information to increase one’s general knowledge, such as why stomach acid doesn’t burn through your stomach lining.  The shocking answer is that it actually does, but the stomach lining is constantly being replaced with fresh, new stomach lining cells.  And this is why a dead person’s stomach acid will burn through their stomach.

Perhaps Gulp’s only failing is that the reader is left wanting to know and learn more, but the book has to end somewhere.  In addition to biological and science details, Roach also provides lots of stories and histories of past experiments of what was done in learning about these body parts and how they worked.  And for those really curious, yes, there are multiple chapters on flatulence.  Readers will not be disappointed, but they never are with Mary Roach.

Originally written on April 27, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

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