Best-selling author Mary Roach returns with a new adventure to the invisible realm we carry around inside. Roach takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour.
The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: The questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis?
In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of - or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach as our guide, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists - who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts. Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies.
©2013 Mary Roach (P)2013 Tantor
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
There are so many things wrong with this book -- the anecdotes are hit or miss, depending on your interest in a particular thread; there are far too many anecdotes from the 18th and 19th centuries, when crazy stuff was being done to our digestive systems (and everything else) in the early days of science and medicine; and there is no acknowledgement that today's scientists may prove to be as batty as those guys from the bad old days, despite examples in Gulp of science from the recent past that has already been debunked.
But the one thing that could have made it all coalesce, since this is an investigation into the digestive system in an era of hyper-consciousness about nutrition, would have been a focus on what is going on these days in the science of food consumption and GI medical treatments rather than in horror stories and gross-out jokes from centuries past. The overall idea of taking a journalistic look into the science and mythology of digestion is excellent, but the execution is facile and uninformative.
Most disappointing is the almost complete lack of insight. We don't need Mary Roach interviewing a flatulence expert to teach us that people don't mind the smell of their own farts. Or that nuns may have used enemas to satisfy their sublimated sexual urges. Or that Elvis may have died of constipation. Or that we could eke out that last 10% of nutrition from the things we eat by eating our own poop. Or that the legend of dragons may have been no more than a case of fart lighting gone horribly wrong. (Note the frequent use of the word "may" -- little of concrete insight anywhere).
Worse than that, though, are the instances where the insight is incomplete or wrong. The author recounts a horror story about colectomy surgery being used to cure constipation in the 19th century, but never follows up with even a note about colectomy now being a highly effective treatment for immotility (which worked life-changing wonders for a member of my family) -- it wasn't the viability of the procedure that was ever in question, it was the danger of complications from any surgical procedure in the early days of surgical procedures.
Most egregious is the author's serious debunking of dietary fiber as an agent in reducing colon cancer without a single word of discussion about its other benefits (never mind that the issue of fiber and colon cancer has hardly been resolved to the point of being debunked, certainly not based on the flaws of a long-ago study comparing rural Africans to English sailors that Roach spends too much time on).
The narrator recites the book like an eighth grader making fart jokes, which in fact she is, except that she is not an eighth grader. I can't wholly blame the author for giving her little more than eighth grade fart jokes to work with -- the author didn't force her to narrate the whole thing with a relentless snicker barely concealed beneath her words.
In addition to all the above, this book constantly evoked annoyance -- we are interrupted constantly by "Author's notes" (i.e. footnotes) that spoiled the flow of the narrative. Making it doubly annoying is that, after the rankling intrusion of the phrase "author's note" to signal the start of a footnote, there was never any indication of where the note ended and the main text resumed (not a problem in print, but definitely an issue in audio).
Many other negative reviews of this book discuss the gross-out factor. That really didn't bother me per se. We are talking about the digestive system -- even the most appetizing gourmet meal turns into something gross the second it passes your lips. Perhaps it is the delight with which the grossness is thrown out there that rankles people -- people older than the age of 12, that is.
I thoroughly enjoyed the content as written. The delivery lacked.
The story, and the investigative aspect. Who looks for this stuff? Awesome!
The author. She has an obvious comedic tone that emily doesn't deliver effectively.
The greatest detraction was the narrator trying to mimic the voices of the various scientists. It sounded mocking even when it wasn't meant to. This is a really cool trip through digestion! I just wish I had time to actually read the book in my own way vs. this. Still love Audible!
This is your typical Mary Roach book. The exploration of a somewhat unknown topic and the oddball scientific history and strange characters behind the research of the topic. All told with a great sense of humor. Very fascinating and a good read as all her books are.
My only comment is that the narrator isn't as engaging or enthusiastic about the subject as the author is (having listened to a few Mary Roach interviews over the years). Not to say that the narration was bad...it just could have been better. I would have given it all five stars across the board if it was read by the author instead.
Mary Roach does a great job at balancing humor and science writing while taking us down a journey through the alimentary canal. Like a talented tour guide, she presents facts in a digestible format relevant to both a ten-year old making scatalogical references or an adult interested in some entertaining bite-sized science fact. I can't wait to listen to or read Bonk and Packing for Mars. They are next on my reading list, just as soon as I click submit.
I now have a deeper respect for Elvis Presley and his 'taking care of business.'
This is definitely going on the "listen again" list, Mary Roach packs so much information into her books that you can never digest (forgive me) it all in one go.
Roach isn't squeamish about tackling the less glorious topics, she looks into the angles that I want to know about, but am too afraid to ask.
If you are inquisitive, any of Roaches works are worth a listen!
Goodreads reviewer and blogger... also dentist and wife/mom when I get the time!
The science geek in me practically peed her pants she was so excited to read this book. (I guess my inner nerd has a mild case of urinary incontinence but that is neither here nor there...) I mean an entire book about the alimentary canal, starting with my home turf, the mouth? Count me in!
Will you enjoy this book? Well, that depends on how you answer the following questions. Have you ever wondered:
If you can die from trying to defecate too forcefully?
Why do animals eat their own poop?
Could the Jonah biblical story have scientific plausibility?
Why doesn't your stomach eat itself until there is nothing left?
What makes farts smell so disgusting?
What is the purpose of saliva and why do babies make so much?
How to prisoners smuggle so much junk up their butts?
I loved every second of finding out the answer to these questions and about 1,000 more that I didn't even know I had. I enjoyed the refresher course on human anatomy and physiology and LOVED Mary Roach's humorous approach to science. You do not have to have a science background to adore this book. It is perfectly suitable for all audiences, particularly ones that don't mind a little potty humor.
The narrator in the audiobook was spot on: Funny, tongue-in-cheek, and pleasant to listen too. This isn't a character-driven novel or anything like that, so the narrator just had to read the book and read it well, and that she did! I listened to this book in about a weeks time and felt a little more informed each day.
Warning: Possible side effects of reading this book include forcing your loved ones (aka the husband, in my case) to listen to about a bajillion facts about pooping, burps, farts, and gas. In case you are wondering, he did not appreciate learning that information, the neanderthal.
There's very interesting information in this book - the truth behind Elvis' death (no, really), unappreciated and really cool bodily functions, like saliva, and the importance of belching and farting. Much better than I can communicate.
Unfortunately the tone of the book is very odd. Roach states in her introduction that she wants to get past taboos and look at all this cool information; and then goes on to make a lot of "well sure they were grossed out, it's poo!" jokes that undermines her original stated intent. Let's face it, her comedic writing is tepid.
On top of that the narrator, Zeller is weak. She's lousy at character voices and her overly perky delivery is instantly annoying. After a couple of hours I was dismayed to realize that her tone exactly matched that of the author.
Eh, if you're really interested, it's probably less painful as a read rather than a listen.
Different narrator, better jokes.
I picked out this book on a whim. I had enjoyed her other book, "Cadavers", but I really didn't expect this one to be such a wonderful combination of information and entertainment. It is formidable on both counts. Roach is certainly aware of what she calls the "Ick Factor" in her subject matter but she handles it with such aplomb that you can keep your eye n the topic and not get caught up in "Yewwwww"s.
Roach has done something that is the goal of all science writers, written about an important subject that is usually sidestepped by other writers and done it in such a way as to be useful and to make the reader feel as liberated in exploring the topic as Mary Roach became as she did her extensive research.
In case I wasn't clear, I really liked this book!
Avid audiobook listener. Mostly into memoirs / autobiographies and other non-fiction.
I decided on Gulp because I loved Mary Roach's Stiff - a superbly written and read book on human cadavers. As expected, Gulp was well-researched book on the topic of digestion and was written in a similar style. I like Roach's writing, but unfortunately the topic did not capture my interest so I struggled through the book. I learned a few things here and there, but overall I do not share the author's curiosity about the alimentary canal. I would only recommend Gulp to those who know for sure that they like the topic.
I am crazy about her books! This book from tongue and smell to the "end results" was fascinating. There was a chapter near the end of the book that I just could not listen to, my gag reflexes kept on acting up so I skipped it and enjoyed all the rest. The chapter about smuggling drugs was especially interesting. Keep them coming Mary!
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