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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal | [Mary Roach]

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

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?
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Audible Editor Reviews

Editors Select, April 2013 - Mary Roach is willing to “go there” in the name of Science. She has tackled sexual physiology in Bonk, the life of cadavers in Stiff, and now takes on the (not-so-hot) topic of the digestive system in Gulp. This journey begins at the top and ends at the bottom of the legendary alimentary canal, but Roach does not take us there in a straight line. There are side excursions to visit experts in the field of morning breathe and pet-food engineers. We explore the power of salvia and the origin of mythical fire-breathing serpents. By asking seemingly ridiculous questions like, “Does noxious flatus do more than clear a room?” Roach manages to dismiss those common misconceptions we all seem to have but never question out loud. In Gulp she serves-up Science just the way I like it: Well-researched, relevant, offbeat, and hilarious. —Tricia, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

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

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  •  
    Kirstin Atlanta, GA, United States 05-01-13
    Kirstin Atlanta, GA, United States 05-01-13 Member Since 2010

    I am a grower. A tangle of vines weaving round myrtle branch fences. Rusty metal, soft stone, and worn wood. Unkempt curls and knees covered in clay. I listen.

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    "Mary Roach Does Not Disappoint!"
    If you could sum up Gulp in three words, what would they be?

    Fascinating! Entertaining! Surprising!


    What did you like best about this story?

    I love Mary Roach's work. I have read all her books, but I have to say I was a little hesitant to read this one. I didn't know what to expect. Could the digestive system really be that interesting? Would I just be grossed out the whole time? I decided to jump in anyway. I was not disappointed. I think Mary Roach's genuine fascination with the world creates a contagious atmosphere of awe. Many time through out the book I found myself thinking "Wow! that is really interesting." Her style of writing also has a certain light hearted joy to it. Making you almost feel like you are there with her while she is sticking her whole arm into a cow. A spectator to a good friends adventures. I was also not grossed out at all. Well maybe a little bit during the saliva part, but in general I was not. I even ate lunch a few times while listening.


    Have you listened to any of Emily Woo Zeller’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Yes and I love the way she narrates!


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    I found the most interesting part to be getting a larger perspective on what people believe about the body. Every age it seems has it's thing. Today it might be Gluten intolerance, but 100 years ago it might have been bosom snakes. Self diagnosis run amok no matter what period you live in. Also a perspective on what science and medicine had to say. It is really amazing to see things from a larger scale. It really puts todays beliefs in perspective.


    Any additional comments?

    I highly recommend reading this book if you like Mary Roach! You will really really enjoy it!

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dubi New York, NY, United States 04-19-14
    Dubi New York, NY, United States 04-19-14

    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.

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    "A Steady Diet of Snark"
    What would have made Gulp better?

    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.


    What was most disappointing about Mary Roach’s story?

    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).


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    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.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    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).


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sher from Provo Utah 06-17-13
    Sher from Provo Utah 06-17-13 Member Since 2015

    tired teacher

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    "Nasty subject, Great book!"

    I LOVED this book. As she did in "Stiff," Mary Roach tackles a less than savory subject with intelligent and humor. I learned a lot of great info about the digestive track, and I laughed out loud at many of Roach's vignettes and explanations. Who knew that ingesting someone else's fecal material could restore your probiotic balance and help you heal, for example? If you have any interest in how the body really works, you will love this book. However, if you are a bit squeamish,you may want to pass. This is not nearly as, well, upsetting as "Stiff," but the subject matter is often inappropriate for "polite company." I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Emily Woo Zeller's narration was spot on. Such a fun listen!

    18 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 10-01-14
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 10-01-14 Member Since 2008

    Newly retired, I am a reading fiend! I like many types of books, both fiction and non-fiction, with the exception of romance and fantasy

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    "Entrances, exits, and just how did Elvis die?"

    All in all, this was an easy read and certainly enlightening. Everything you ever may have wondered and all that you never really wondered about your gut, from top to bottom.

    Most of it was amusing stuff you'd never want to discuss with anyone, but some of it was especially interesting. I am speaking of the preferred way of smuggling items into jail in California penal facilities--who ever thought? I am almost sorry I now have to think of this!

    And perhaps most interesting of all is the Elvis story. You need to wait for the last part of the book for this zinger, but it is surely worth waiting for. You will realize Elvis didn't die from drugs and obesity, it was something much more sad and chilling. Changes my whole feeling for my former childhood idol. It redeems him in my eyes. Poor Elvis.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    david Clermont, GA, United States 05-03-13
    david Clermont, GA, United States 05-03-13
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    "Humorously clinical analysis of digestive system"
    What did you like best about Gulp? What did you like least?

    Narration is very good and Roach describes, using detailed research and graphic but appropriate language, a clinical context that is fasinating to anyone in the medical field or with interest in the digestive system.


    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CK1 Urbana, Illinois United States 04-07-13
    CK1 Urbana, Illinois United States 04-07-13 Member Since 2015
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    "Mary Roach does it again"

    A fascinating road trip from nose to anus. Mary Roach's unique style of fearless, curious inquiry into unknown aspects of everyday life and extreme empathy for persons in esoteric professions holds the listener's interest.

    The narrator is very pleasant but a bit slow in pace. By adjusting the playback speed, this is a non-issue. Not as good as the performances on Roach's earlier books Stiff and Bonk.

    My only complaint isn't with the work or its audio performance, it's with the audio production. The volume fluctuates greatly, even from word to word, as though the narrator didn't maintain uniform distance from the microphone or poor equipment was used. This could have been easily fixed by running compression, but was not.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Suzn F Fletcher, VT, US 05-23-13
    Suzn F Fletcher, VT, US 05-23-13 Member Since 2013

    I believe a reviewer should finish a book before submitting a review. What do you think?

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    "GULP>>>>GAG"

    Oh it was okay. I enjoyed the usual Mary Roach funny tone which is always the best part. It was for me pretty much a gross out experience but I knew that going in, so no fault of the author or book itself. I guess I was wanting something more, I'm not sure what, maybe if I could have felt a bit more informed, wait......I did learn one thing...or I thought I did... never mind, now I've forgotten. So I will chalk this one up to an easy fun listen, just not memorable in any way.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mel USA 04-05-13
    Mel USA 04-05-13 Member Since 2009
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    "Funtastic Voyage"

    If Mary Roach taught science, all the kids would earn A's. No, she's not a scientist, and this isn't research to reference on a term paper...but her humorous approach, irreverent wit, and ability to hunt down the most bizarre facts, combine to make any subject she tackles so entertaining and interesting you'll devour every word. One minute she is seriously discussing biology with academicians, the next she is telling the reader to blame those particularly malodorous *floaters* (flatulence) on the dog. Gulp is like her other one-syllable titled books (Stiff, Bonk, Spook), nothing is sacred, and nothing is off limits...including laughing while you learn. Like Isaac Asimov's Fantastic Voyage -- Gulp is a little like boarding a tour bus and being swallowed instead of injected into the human body; Roach is the tour guide/comedian that narrates the trip with an entertaining story, or bizarre fact at every stopping point on the way out. And there's only one way out of the alimentary canal...

    Some of the subject matter was a tad gross--even more so than Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (which I thought was a little better), butt that is part of the tour. You won't want to listen around meal time, and her in-depth (npi) look at the *prison wallet* might have you skipping ahead. But, her trip to the dog food tasting facility, or her conversations with the bean tasters were hilarious. I would never had made it through the interviews, discussing controlled experimentation of flatulence, with a straight face. For all of us that were admonished at sometime for our *irreverent sense of humor* (Ms. B. from Biology and Principal L.)...this one's for you.

    32 of 38 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Renee Decatur, GA, United States 04-18-13
    Renee Decatur, GA, United States 04-18-13 Member Since 2014
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    "Solid choice, don't read while eating!!"

    I listened to most of this on a road trip, with very mindful breaks where I turned off the book. I'm sure if a video camera had been posed on my face while I listened it would have been really funny. I was making all kinds of disgust faces during a lot of it. That being said, it was fascinating; I have bought all of Mary Roach's audiobooks and enjoy them. Just be warned!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    cw360 04-16-13
    cw360 04-16-13 Member Since 2013
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    "A Book For Those Who Enjoy Taking A Dump"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. Many of my friends, for better or worse, are fascinated by poo. This book is more or less a documentary on their favorite subject.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    Its all really good. I loved the chapter on what different species like to eat and why.


    Have you listened to any of Emily Woo Zeller’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Think she did other Mary Roach books. They are far from boring.


    If you could give Gulp a new subtitle, what would it be?

    "A Book For Those Who Enjoy Taking A Dump"


    10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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