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The Body Reviews

The Body by Bill Bryson

The Body: A Guide for Occupants

Bill Bryson

4.08 out of 5

5 reviews

Category: Non-fiction
Imprint: Doubleday
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publication date: 1 Oct 2019
ISBN: 9780857522405

`We spend our whole lives in one body and yet most of us have practically no idea how it works and what goes on inside it. The idea of the book is simply to try to understand the extraordinary contraption that is us.' Bill Bryson sets off to explore the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself.

5 stars out of 5
16 Oct 2019

"One of the strengths of Bryson’s delightful new book... is that it reveals the thousands of rarely acknowledged tasks our body takes care of as we go about our day"

One of the strengths of Bryson’s delightful new book, “The Body,” is that it reveals the thousands of rarely acknowledged tasks our body takes care of as we go about our day. We should be thankful. Well, mostly thankful. In some respects, the human body is terribly designed. It’s a collection of evolution’s Scotch-tape-and-bubble-gum fixes (see our injury-prone knees or the dangerously exposed scrotum). Plus, our bodies can and do go horribly awry, whether from tennis elbow or deadly infections... Bryson, who gives off a Cronkite-like trustworthy vibe, is good at allaying fears and busting myths. For instance, he says you don’t have to worry about MSG — there’s no science indicating that eating normal amounts of this synthetic umami causes headaches or malaise (though there is evidence people find it delicious). You can also stop obsessing about antioxidants. There’s little science behind the claim that you can increase your life span with antioxidant supplements (a $2- billion-a-year industry).


4 stars out of 5
James McConnachie
29 Sep 2019

"Bill Bryson gleefully tackles all aspects of the human body in an entertaining, fact-packed guide"

It mostly works. Bryson has a sharp eye for a weird fact — though, like the stereotypical Midwesterner, he is impressed by sheer size and scale. The 25 sextillion molecules of oxygen in every exhalation, the 8,000 diseases that can kill us, and so on. The numbers are often put in striking contexts, too. How about the five to 40 years it takes our bodies to decompose in a sealed coffin? The average grave is visited for 15 years, Bryson points out. We might linger alone for some time.

3 stars out of 5
Steven Poole
28 Sep 2019

"It is a feat of narrative skill to bake so many facts into an entertaining and nutritious book, as Bryson sketches the history of lobotomies, phrenology and heart transplants."

[Bryson] travels around asking doctors and medical researchers how the meat and chemicals of homo sapiens all hang together, and relays his findings with a smooth and raconteurish authority. The result is a comforting compendium of fascinating facts, a little like a grown-up version of some Usborne Amazing Book of the Body... The ideal reader of Bryson’s book is overweight, encased in a “warm wobble of flesh”, and really ought to do a bit more exercise. “You should get up and move around a little,” he advises the reader directly, which seems a little hectoring and ungrateful, considering his audience is very likely to be seated while enjoying the book. Since the text appears aimed at a mainly American audience, mind you, its assumption of readerly obesity and sloth is probably a good bet... The sources Bryson cites tend to be other popular compendia of facts about the body, magazine articles, or interviews with scientists, rather than scientific papers themselves, and the challenge for a generalist in synthesising so much information is knowing when he is being fed a pet line rather than reporting on a robust consensus... It is a feat, too, of narrative skill to bake so many facts into an entertaining and nutritious book, as Bryson sketches the history of lobotomies, phrenology and heart transplants, or scoots through some simple evolutionary theory. 

4 stars out of 5
26 Sep 2019

"Extraordinary stories about the heart, lungs, genitals ... plus some anger and life advice – all delivered in the inimitable Bryson style"

Bryson’s The Body is a directory of such wonders, a tour of the minuscule; it aims to do for the human body what his A Short History of Nearly Everything did for science. He has waded through a PhD’s worth of articles, interviewed a score of physicians and biologists, read a library of books, and had a great deal of fun along the way. There’s a formula at work – the prose motors gleefully along, a finely tuned engine running on jokes, factoids and biographical interludes...You are a walking, talking catalogue of wonders. “And how do we celebrate the glory of our existence?” Bryson asks. “Well, for most of us by exercising minimally and eating maximally.” For all Bryson’s encyclopedic reading, his brain-picking sessions with medicine’s finest minds, the ultimate conclusions of his book could stand as an ultimate prescription for life: eat a little bit less, move a little bit more.

4 stars out of 5
26 Sep 2019

"It’s fun to read because it’s not just comprehensive, but quirky."

Bill Bryson isn’t a medic, biologist or psychiatrist, but that’s what makes his exploration of the human body, all seven billion billion billion atoms of it (the book is rich in jaw-dropping stats), so readable and useful. As with his earlier A Short History of Nearly Everything, which offers a non-specialist introduction to science, he asks all the questions a layperson doesn’t dare to ask for fear of exposing humiliating ignorance, then answers them in witty, jargon-free prose that glides you through 400 pages.