The Body

The Body

A Guide for Occupants

Book - 2019
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"Bill Bryson, bestselling author of A Short History of Nearly Everything, takes us on a head-to-toe tour of the marvel that is the human body. As compulsively readable as it is comprehensive, this is Bryson at his very best, a must-read owner's manual for everybody. Bill Bryson once again proves himself to be an incomparable companion as he guides us through the human body--how it functions, its remarkable ability to heal itself, and (unfortunately) the ways it can fail. Full of extraordinary facts (your body made a million red blood cells since you started reading this) and irresistible Bryson-esque anecdotes, The Body will lead you to a deeper understanding of the miracle that is life in general and you, in particular. As Bill Bryson writes, 'we pass our existence within this wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted.' The Body will cure that indifference with generous doses of wondrous, compulsively readable facts and information."-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Toronto : Doubleday Canada, [2019]
Copyright Date: 2019
ISBN: 9780385685740
Branch Call Number: 612 BRY 2019-10
Characteristics: x, 450 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some colour) ; 25 cm


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The Body: A Guide for Occupants

In new book, Bill Bryson explores our 'warm wobble of flesh.' Read the original story from the National Post, Nov 5 2019. (more)

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May 31, 2021

Bill Bryson writes books the way other people get advanced degrees. He somehow manages to distill a lifetime of information into something resembling a master's class for the reading masses. It's all wonderful and moderately intimidating how much knowledge there is in the world. And Bryson is only illuminating a small fraction of a small fraction of it.

Here's my three big takeaways from The Body: A Guide for Occupants. (1) My decision to not work in the medical field was the correct one. The bloodier the chapter, the more uncomfortable I was reading it. (2) Cancer frightens me even more now that I understand it better. Same for diseases. And (3) it was genuinely surprising how much science still doesn't know about the body. So many descriptions of organs or afflictions are concluded by saying, "...and we still don't know what X does or how Y occurs."

This book was published in 2019, and I'm sure it's been noted elsewhere but Bryson comes chillingly close to predicting the COVID-19 pandemic less than a year later. Here are a few quotes.

"A successful virus is one that doesn't kill too well and can circulate widely. That's what makes flu such a perennial threat ... The great Spanish flu of 1918 racked up a global death toll of tens of millions—some estimates put it as high as a hundred million—not by being especially lethal but by being persistent and highly transmissible. It killed only about 2.5 percent of victims, it is thought. Ebola would be more effective—and in the long run more dangerous—if it mutated a milder version that didn't strike such panic into communities and made it easier for victims to mingle with unsuspecting others."

"'The fact is,' [Washington University's Michael Kinch] says, 'we are really no better prepared for a bad outbreak today than we were when Spanish flu killed tens of millions of people a hundred years ago. The reason we haven't had another experience like that isn't because we have been especially vigilant. It's because we have been lucky."

For all of its bloody and frustrating details, the human body really is a wonderous miracle of nature. And it's all the more special because of its limits, and not in spite of them. Life really is a slow roll to the grave, and when we're at our best we do everything we can to slow that roll as much as possible. But death is still inevitable. It's implied several times over that what looks like a loss for the individual turns out to be a gain for the species. Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from The Body and a grim thought: "Cancer is the price we pay for evolution."

Feb 01, 2021

While the book is interesting, it has mistakes - for instance, Bryson states all geckos are female and reproduce asexually, essentially being clones of the mother. This is not the case. There is a species that reproduces asexually, but not all species of geckos are female, and not all reproduce asexually. As well, he states type O blood is universal, but only O negative is universal. If O positive were universal we'd be laughing because it is so common, and everyone would be able to use it.

As well, the book is already out of date when it comes to the spread of viruses. (I suppose we have to expect that scientific information can quickly become out of date.) Bryson argues that viruses are spread much more readily through surfaces rather than air. Covid-19 has changed that conclusion.

Feb 01, 2021

great story teller

Jan 02, 2021

KC Dyer's fave of 2020

Aug 07, 2020

Jeopardy can do many shows on numerous answer-and-question trivia under science/biology/human-body topics. There are 23 chapters and the final two, "Medicine Good and Bad" and "The End", are also thought provoking with social insights.

Note: of the many photographs of medical pioneers, only one is a woman - Nettie Stevens, who, while studying the reproductive organs of mealworms in Pennsylvania in 1905, discovered the Y chromosome.

May 15, 2020

This is typical Bill Bryson. If you are the type to read a book full of facts then you are sure to like this. Each chapter focuses on a different section or system of the body and Bryson gives you more factual and fun tidbits than you will ever remember. It was really interesting and very readable and I would definitely recommend it to people who enjoy this type of thing.

DCPL_JohnB Mar 23, 2020

A compelling look at the human body and how it works (and sometimes doesn't). Bryson fills each page with eye-opening revelations, approaching his subject with reverent curiosity. Yet a light-heartedness sparks up, here and there. Frequent asides into the lives of scientists and key figures shed light on history's unsung heroes and curiosities.

Mar 05, 2020

Lovely book, informative and funny. For me, was a fast read as I loved biology and anatomy in college. But anyone can benefit from diving into it. You'll love your skin, your thymus, and even your feet even more than you do now.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Mar 03, 2020

Informative and super readable. There is a lot of content about diseases, which makes now a fascinating time to be reading it!

Mar 01, 2020

A broad and quite basic overview. Easy and quick read, slightly entertaining and well researched - but not mind blowing. Those who are more than a little interested in health or general biology are unlikely to learn anything new here. It barely touches the surface on most topics. A few things are taken out of context... which I suppose is to be expected when the approach is so basic and mostly based on trivia. A good primer for adults who may have never taken biology and/or are new to health awareness.

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Aug 07, 2020

176 quotes already posted in goodreads and I understand the readers' interest. There are tons of information, statistics and unusual trivia:

Jun 30, 2020

"Your brain is you. Everything else is just plumbing and scaffolding." p 49

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