November 12, 2018

Book Review: Gulp by Mary Roach


Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

by Mary Roach

Genres: Science, Nonfiction, Humor

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Length: 348 pages
Published: April 1, 2013
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 2 out of 5 stars (did not finish)

Official Book Summary:

"The irresistible, ever-curious, and always best-selling Mary Roach returns with a new adventure to the invisible realm we carry around inside.

'America’s funniest science writer' (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour of our insides. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions inspired by our insides 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 names 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? We meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks—or has the courage—to ask. And we go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a bacteria transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal.

Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies."


"People are messy, unpredictable things."

Other books by Mary Roach


"In 1968, on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, six young men undertook an irregular and unprecedented act. Despite the setting and the social climate of the day, it involved no civil disobedience or mind-altering substances. Given that it took place in the nutritional sciences department, I cannot even say with confidence that the participants wore bell-bottomed pants or sideburns of unusual scope. I know only the basic facts: the six men stepped inside a metabolic chamber and remained for two days, testing meals made from dead bacteria.

This was the fevered dawn of space exploration; NASA had Mars on its mind. A spacecraft packed with all the food necessary for a two-year mission would be impracticably heavy to launch. Thus there was a push to develop menu items that could be 'bioregenerated,' that is to say, farmed on elements of the astronauts' waste. The title of the paper nicely sums the results: 'Human Intolerance to Bacteria as Food.' Leaving aside the vomiting and vertigo, the thirteen bowel movements in twelve hours from Subject H, one hopes the aesthetics alone would have tabled further research. Pale gray Aerobacter, served as a 'slurry,' was reported to be unpleasantly slimy. H. eutropha had a 'halogen-like taste.'

Some in the filed looked askance at the work. I found this quote in a chapter on fabricated space foods: 'Men and not ingest nutrients, they consume food. More than that, meals. Although to the single-minded biochemist or physiologist, this aspect of human behavior may appear to be irrelevant or even frivolous, it is nevertheless a deeply ingrained part of the human situation.'

The point is well taken. In their zeal for a solution, the Berkeley team would appear to have lost a bit of perspective."

My Book Review:

As always with books I did not finish, keep that in mind when considering this review.

I usually love researched nonfiction. In the past few years, this genre has increasingly become one of my favorites for pleasure reading and I've grown to love, love, love authors such as Judith Flanders, Peter Ackroyd, Daniel James Brown, Nathaniel Philbrick, Erik Larson, and Malcolm Gladwell--I highly recommend each of them.

Mary Roach is a very popular researched, nonfiction author and she's been on my to-read radar for years, particularly since the success of Stiff. I started listening to Gulp with high expectations, but as a I said earlier, I did not finish it.

Much of this was due to the fact that I am a vegetarian purely because eating meat grosses me out and much of her digestive-track narrative is based on meat-eating, gag-inducing stories. In the promotional, kid-friendly video above, it looks like the book is lighthearted; moreover, it stars broccoli. Reading page after page of Roach's attempts to gross out her audience with meat would make a non-vegetarian gag. Tell me about what happens when you eat grains, fruits, vegetables, and the like and I could probably have kept going, but I literally could not stomach it.

I was surprised by my reaction to this book, so I very much want to read another one of her books at some point. If you have a title recommendation, let me know in the comments section below!

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