Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
© 2013 Mary Roach
Mary Roach is no stranger to delving into topics which others find icky — like corpses. Even her more conventional works flirt with taboo, and in Gulp she embraces disgust whole-heartedly, by treating readers with iron stomachs to a discussion of all things digestive. Gulp is not, strictly speaking, a book about the digestive system. Instead, it’s a history of the odder means scientists through the centuries have fashioned to study it, though some of the questions themselves are startling enough (how many cellphones can you pack into a rectum?) Its intent is more entertaining than educational, but readers will glean an understanding of how our body works regardless, and perhaps learn more than they wished they knew. The body’s own structure gives Roach an organizational structure her other books might lack: her record of experiments follows the ‘alimentary canal’, an older name for the digestive tract, from our tongue right through the intestines and out the other side, pausing for a great many fart jokes. Roach is definitely a ‘popular’ science writer in that she writes for the lowest common denominator, appealing to as many readers as can be possibly found who are willing to read about spit and constipation. This is not a work that takes itself seriously; it is disgusting, funny, and informative in that order. Largely entertaining, but a touch on the gratuitous side.