This book review of The Body will look into whether these are 400+ pages that you should read. I had my doubts to begin with. Bill Bryson has written a wide range of non-fiction books, and I’ve had mixed results with the few that I have read.
But First! An Embarrassing Story!
In a Sunburned Country, about Bryson’s time in Australia, stands out to me because of a rather unfortunate combination of events that lead to a miserable conversation. I had just finished reading all the chapters of horrible ways to die in Australia when I found myself in a small-talk situation. (Otherwise known as a sure-fire disaster.)
Here’s the scene: miserable line of never-ending agony at the DMV (short for Department of Motor Vehicles and one of life’s dismal necessities for a U.S. American), my introverted self, and a man, bless him, who was being friendly and trying to make chit-chat with the worst chit-chatter in the world (that’s me).
In any case, it came out that he was from Australia, and, heaven help me the only thing I could think to say was: “Oh, there are a lot of ways to die over there.”
We didn’t talk much after that. I mean, really, where is there to go? Ultimately, I survived. I hope the man in line found someone more adept at small talk.
So what about this book? What’s the final verdict for The Body by Bill Bryson?
3 Reasons I Continued Reading
Here are three reasons I picked up The Body and didn’t stop reading it.
First reason: it’s a book by Bill Bryson. Since I have mixed experience with his books, I pay attention when another one enters circulation. Always in the back of my mind is the question, “Will this book be a good one?” The timing on this one was fortuitous, which only helped.
Second reason: I was teaching a unit study for my girls about the five senses (but not the preschool “where-is-your-nose” version) about the time that the book came out. Our unit study was finished by the time the book was available for me from the library, but that didn’t stop me from blurting out disgusting or unusual facts while the girls were waking up in the morning.
Third reason: it was interesting. Since I have had some successful and some not-so-successful reading moments with Bryson, keeping the book interesting is a must-do, non-negotiable. And The Body was really stinkin’ interesting.
Book Review of The Body by Bill Bryson
The subject matter that Bryson chose to emphasize was well-balanced. He chose some obvious areas (skin, hair, brain, etc.) to research and share; he also chose some more under-appreciated subjects (immune system, cancer, microbes, etc.).
In addition, Bryson rescued some important scientific and medical contributions from obscurity and highlighted amusing (possibly useful) studies as well. Thoughtful and thorough research in a readable format – definitely a great read!
Bryson created a hefty book that is equal parts anecdote, research, and only nominally uncomfortable – more on that in the “what I learned section at the bottom”! Not a bad achievement for such a largely mysterious and squishy subject.
All that considered, did I like it?
Yes! Definitely worth a read if you can bite off a little bit every day. I had to go one chapter each night because anything beyond that was too much to absorb. It takes some time to get through 400+ pages of material, but it can be done!
6 Things I Learned from The Body
These are just snippets of what I learned by reading The Body by Bill Bryson. There is so much content that I’m sure you’d walk away with different points resonating in your head. Hopefully these final teasers will convince you to check it out!
- We don’t have many thermal sensors. That’s why when you sit in a puddle of water, it’s hard to tell if you’re feeling cold or wet.
- The brain connects both what we touch with how we should think that it feels. Bryson uses the example of the caress of a lover being desirable while the same touch from a stranger would be creepy.
- North Carolina State University conducted a study called the Belly Button Biodiversity Project by swabbing the belly buttons of 60 Americans and testing for microbes. They found 2,368 species of bacteria. 1,458 were unknown to science until the study was performed.
- No one seems to agree on how many facial expressions we can make, but experts in this area have “narrowed it down” to between 4,100 to 10,000. (Meaning we’ve got a lot more emojis to create before we even get close!)
- The difference between vitamins and minerals – I always wanted to know this but never stopped to pursue the answer! Vitamins are organic chemicals that our bodies need but cannot make on their own. Minerals are inorganic chemicals that we need but cannot make on our own.
- Had to do a graphic for this one because I love his description of a brownie.
There are so many other tidbits that I want to drop in this book review of The Body, but I should leave some for you to discover. What we know about the human body, how we came to that knowledge, and all we have left to learn about the body is poked, tested, and compiled in one accessible book.
One thing that COVID-19 has shown us (among many) is that we have a lot yet to learn and understand. The Body by Bill Bryson highlights how far we have come in learning about the human body; it also reminds us of what we have left to figure out.
Until next time!