Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
by Mary Roach; narrated by Emily Woo Zeller
Mary Roach’s latest book explores the digestive process, from beginning to end, looking at what scientists think and have thought, what they study, and how they go about it. It’s great, as usual, with lots of funny moments. A few thoughts:
- People are generally fine with their own saliva, as long as it’s in their mouth. As soon as it has left their mouth, it’s gross. For instance, they’re far less interested in eating a bowl of soup into which they have spit than one they haven’t.
- Roach gave plenty of room to Alexis St. Martin and Dr. William Beaumont, the former being a man with a fistulated stomach and the latter being the doctor who used the stomach to experiment with digestion, whether or not St. Martin wanted to do so. Particularly of note for us as Beaumont was the military doctor at the U.S. fort on Mackinac Island, which we visited this summer (and where I first learned about Beaumont, though mostly in a positive light).
- As with the book on astronauts, there is a long section on flatus and the people who study it. Flatus samples are now often collected via special mylar ‘pantaloons’ taped at the waist and legs, with a valve for harvesting the samples.
- Elvis probably died from having a gigantic colon, something that happens after a lifetime of constipation. His lifetime battle with this condition is part of why the Graceland bathroom was so well appointed. The King spent a lot of time on his throne.
- The section on coprophegia, animals that eat their own waste, was equal parts gross and fascinating. Not only do rabbits and rats perform this most yucky of acts, it’s essential to their digestive practice. For instance, there are bacteria in the colon of rats that release vitamins which the rat can only absorb in the small intestine, thus the food must make a second pass through the system.
Once again, Emily Woo Zeller does a fine job with the book, giving a wry twist to many of the more amusing passages and really Roach’s perspective. Another fascinating book in the continuing line of science writing from Mary Roach. A winner!