The Body

Who doesn’t love the title of this book?


The BodyA Guide for Occupants.

Of course, we do. It fits right in with what Jon Zahourek has been saying for years.


Ahem, decades.


We should all know how we’re put together on the inside, yes?


Why wouldn’t we want to know as much as we possibly can about the human organism that carries us through life?


And who better to engage us than the narrative voice of Bill Bryson, whose nearly twenty books have taken us to Africa (Bill Bryson’s African Diary), to Australia (In A Sunburned Country), and for a 2,000-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods). Bryson even tackled A Short History of Nearly Everything.


So why not the human body?


In 23 chapters, Bryson goes from “How to Build A Human” and “Microbial You” to “Food, Glorious Food” and “Into the Nether Regions.”


Written with a highly-engaging narrative style, including frequent trips back into the history of early anatomical exploration, Bryson approaches human anatomy with the touch of a humorous layman.


“We pass our existence within this warm wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted,” he writes. “How many among us know even roughly where the spleen is or what it does? Or the difference between tendons and ligaments? Or what our lymph nodes are up to? How many times a day do you suppose you blink? Five hundred? A thousand? You’ve no idea, of course. Well, you blink fourteen thousand times a day—so much that your eyes are shut for nearly twenty-three minutes of every waking day.”


Bryson encourages us to think more in depth about our bodies—and to take better care of it. “And how do we celebrate the glory of our existence?” he asks. “Well, for most of us by eating maximally and exercising minimally … Yet in some kind and miraculous way our bodies look after us, extract nutrients from the miscellaneous foodstuffs we push into our faces, and somehow hold us together: generally at a pretty high level, for decades.”


The Body comes with notes on sources, a detailed bibliography, and an extensive index. You could read it start to finish or dip in and out with ease. Bryson goes into depth on various components of the human body system and he also tackles questions that puzzle anatomists and anthropologists to this day, such as why humans are bipedal.


“Out of some 250 species of primates, we are the only ones that have elected to get up and move around exclusively on two legs. Some authorities think bipedalism is at least as important a defining characteristic of what it is to be human as our high-functioning brain,” he writes. Bryson turns this chapter into an excellent cautionary lecture (probably too strong a term) on the benefits of exercise.


Start to finish, including some musings on death and the amount of medical care asserted to save lives that are clearly in their last days or weeks, The Body is an excellent contribution our favorite subject.

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