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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
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The irresistible, ever-curious, and always best-selling Mary Roach returns with a new adventure to the invisible realm we carry around inside.
“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of—or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists—who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts.
Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies.

The irresistible, ever-curious, and always best-selling Mary Roach returns with a new adventure to the invisible realm we carry around inside.“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of—or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists—who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts.Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies.
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Product Details
Sales Rank:
75,315
Pages:
352
Publication Date:
04/01/2014
Lexile:
1100L
ISBN13:
9780393348743
Product Dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x0.90(d)
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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About the Author

Mary Roach is the author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Her writing has appeared in Outside, Wired, National Geographic, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.

Hometown:

San Francisco, California

Place of Birth:

New Hampshire

Education:

B.A., Wesleyan University, 1981
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Table of Contents

Introduction 13

1 Nose Job: Tasting has little to do with taste 23

2 I'll Have the Putrescine: Your pet is not like you 41

3 Liver and Opinions: Why we eat what we eat and despise the rest 61

4 The Longest Meal: Can thorough chewing lower the national debt? 79

5 Hard to Stomach: The acid relationship of William Beaumont and Alexis St. Martin 93

6 Spit Gets a Polish: Someone ought to bottle the stuff 107

7 A Bolus of Cherries: Life at the oral processing lab 131

8 Big Gulp: How to survive being swallowed alive 149

9 Dinner's Revenge: Can the eaten eat back? 167

10 Stuffed: The science of eating yourself to death 185

11 Up Theirs: The alimentary canal as criminal accomplice 197

12 Inflammable You: Fun with hydrogen and methane 223

13 Dead Man's Bloat: And other diverting tales from the history of flatulence research 233

14 Smelling a Rat: Does noxious flatus do more than clear a room? 243

15 Eating Backward: Is the digestive tract a two-way street? 269

16 I'm All Stopped Up: Elvis Presley's megacolon and other ruminations on death by constipation 289

17 The Ick Factor: We can cure you, but there's just one thing 311

Acknowledgments 329

Bibliography 333

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What People Are Saying
Fans of lively writing will be delighted by the newest monosyllable from Mary Roach. Once again Roach boldly goes where no author has gone before, into the sciences of the taboo, the macabre, the icky, and the just plain weird. And she conveys it all with a perfect touch: warm, lucid, wry, sharing the unavoidable amusement without ever resorting to the cheap or the obvious. Yum!—Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature
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Editorial Reviews
“Once again Roach boldly goes where no author has gone before, into the sciences of the taboo, the macabre, the icky, and the just plain weird. And she conveys it all with a perfect touch: warm, lucid, wry, sharing the unavoidable amusement without ever resorting to the cheap or the obvious. Yum!”“As probing as an endoscopy, Gulp is quintessential Mary Roach: supremely wide-ranging, endlessly curious, always surprising, and, yes, gut-wrenchingly funny.”
“As engrossing as it is gross.”“Far and away her funniest and most sparkling book, bringing Ms. Roach’s love of weird science to material that could not have more everyday relevance. . . . Never has Ms. Roach’s affinity for the comedic and bizarre been put to better use. . . . “Gulp” is structured as a vastly entertaining pilgrimage down the digestive tract, with Ms. Roach as the wittiest, most valuable tour guide imaginable.”“A delicious read and, dare I say it, a total gas.”“[A] merry foray into the digestive sciences….Inexorably draws the reader along with peristaltic waves of history and vividly described science.”“You’ll come away from this well-researched book with enough weird digestive trivia to make you the most interesting guest at a certain kind of cocktail party…Go ahead and put this one in your carry-on. You won’t regret it.”“A witty, woving romp of a book… Roach…is a thoroughly unflappable, utterly intrepid investigator of the icky.”“Relentlessly fun to read.”“Never before has the process of eating been so very interesting…. After digesting her book, you can’t help but think about what that really means.”“One of my top criteria for pronouncing a book worthwhile is the number of times you snort helplessly with laughter and say, “Wow! Did you know that ... ” before your long-suffering spouse throws a book at you from across the room. My personal spouse says that, in this department, “Gulp” takes the cake.”“Letting this brilliantly mischievous writer, for whom no pun is ouch and no cow sacred, dip her pen into the font of all potty humor must have seemed even riskier than her previous excursions into corpses (Stiff), the afterlife (Spook), sex (Bonk) and outer space (Packing for Mars). But dip she did—at one point she put her whole arm into a cow’s belly—and came up with another quirkily informative pop-science entertainment in Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.”
“There is much to enjoy about Mary Roach—her infectious aw for quirky science and its nerdy adherents, her one-liners... She is beloved, and justifiably so.”“With the same eager curiosity that she previously brought to the subjects of cadavers, space, and sex, the author explores the digestive system, from mouth to colon.”“Gulp is about revelling in the extraordinary complexities and magnificence of human digestion.”
“Letting this brilliantly mischievous writer, for whom no pun is ouch and no cow sacred, dip her pen into the font of all potty humor must have seemed even riskier than her previous excursions into corpses (Stiff), the afterlife (Spook), sex (Bonk) and outer space (Packing for Mars). But dip she did—at one point she put her whole arm into a cow’s belly—and came up with another quirkily informative pop-science entertainment in Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.”
“There is much to enjoy about Mary Roach—her infectious aw for quirky science and its nerdy adherents, her one-liners... She is beloved, and justifiably so.”Gulp is far and away her funniest and most sparkling book, bringing Ms. Roach's love of weird science to material that could not have more everyday relevance. Having graduated from corpses (Stiff), the afterlife (Spook) and sex (Bonk, full of stunts featuring Ms. Roach as guinea pig), she takes on a subject wholly mainstream. She explores it with unalloyed merriment. And she is fearless about the embarrassment that usually accompanies it…Never has Ms. Roach's affinity for the comedic and bizarre been put to better use.…Gulp is an absolute delight…[Roach is] a very good writer who understands that her job is, above all, to entertain. Every paragraph is a pleasure to read, even if that paragraph is about a partially decomposed gazelle entombed in the body of a python…In the wrong hands, a book on digestion would be rendered tedious by a need to cover every aspect of the subject to some degree. But Roach follows her interests, not a checklist…you'll come away from this well-researched book with enough weird digestive trivia to make you the most interesting guest at a certain kind of cocktail party.Roach (Stiff) once again goes boldly into the fields of strange science. In the case of her newest, some may hesitate to follow—it’s about the human digestive system, and it’s as gross as one might expect. But it’s also enthralling. From mouth to gut to butt, Roach is unflinching as she charts every crevice and quirk of the alimentary canal—a voyage she cheerily likens to “a cruise along the Rhine.” En route, she comments on everything from the microbial wisdom of ancient China, to the tactics employed by prisoners when smuggling contraband in their alimentary “vaults,” the surprising success rate of fecal transplants, how conducting a colonoscopy is a little like “playing an accordion,” and a perhaps too-good-to-be-true tale in the New York Times in 1896 of a real-life Jonah surviving a 36-hour stint in the belly of a sperm whale. Roach’s approach is grounded in science, but the virtuosic author rarely resists a pun, and it’s clear she revels in giving readers a thrill—even if it is a queasy one. Adventurous kids and doctors alike will appreciate this fascinating and sometimes ghastly tour of the gastrointestinal system. 18 illus. Agent: Jay Mandel, WME Entertainment. (Apr.)“Mary Roach put her hand in a cow’s stomach for you, dear reader. If you don't read Gulp, then that was all for naught. Plus, you'll miss out on the funniest book ever written about guts.”
“Roach is a gift to all those unsung researchers with weird curiosities, the people who tell us things we hadn't thought to ask: The teams who reveal that we like crunchy foods that snap at speeds of 300 meters per second and produce a crunch that reaches 90 to 100 decibels; the anthropologist who swallowed a shrew whole (with a little tomato sauce) to demonstrate what remains after digestion; the scientists who put windows into cows to see into their rumen; the researchers who study spit; investigators who sniff icky things; and specialists who examine poop. When Roach talks about her visits to various laboratories, I picture her received as a celebrity, the one person who gets it, the outsider who will teach the world to appreciate the distant exurbs of human curiosity. At this she succeeds admirably.”"Roach once again goes boldly into the fields of strange science. In the case of her newest, some may hesitate to follow it's about the human digestive system, and it's as gross as one might expect. . . . Adventurous kids and doctors alike will appreciate this fascinating and sometimes ghastly tour of the gastrointestinal system." ---Publishers Weekly Starred Review“Starred Review. For all her irreverence, Roach marvels over the fine-tuned workings and 'wisdom' of the human body, and readers will delight in her exuberant energy, audacity, and wit.”Best-selling popular science writer Roach (Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void) turns her attention here to the alimentary canal. Roach asks the questions that some readers may have always wondered: Does saliva have curative properties? Do pets taste food differently than their owners do? Could Jonah have survived three days in a whale’s stomach? Could Americans lower the national debt by chewing their food more thoroughly? As she investigates these questions, Roach encounters many an eccentric scientist who has worked tirelessly to unlock the mysteries of saliva, gastrointestinal gases, and mastication. As she recounts her adventures in tasting centers and laboratories, she aims not to disgust readers, but to inspire curiosity—even awe—for the most intimate functions of the human body. VERDICT Filled with witty asides, humorous anecdotes, and bizarre facts, this book will entertain readers, challenge their cultural taboos, and simultaneously teach them new lessons in digestive biology.—Talea Anderson, Ellensburg, WA

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.Throughout her sojourn down the gastrointestinal tract, science writer Roach (Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, 2011, etc.) enlists her abundant assets of intelligence and humor while dissecting this messy and astounding part of the human body. The author ties her curiosity about this region of the body and what many consider a disgusting or off-limits subject for polite conversation to a fifth-grade classroom encounter with a headless, limbless, molded-plastic torso: "Function was not hinted at in Mrs. Claflin's educational torso man….Yet I owe the guy a debt of thanks. To venture beyond the abdominal wall, even a plastic one, was to pull back the curtain on life itself." The author begins by detailing the subtle, complex role the nose plays in taste; why humans have trouble finding names for flavors and smells; and how the human nose can be thought of as a "fleshly gas chromatograph." Roach chronicles her visit to an oral processing lab and her interview with a prisoner who patiently explained the intimate details of utilizing the alimentary canal for illegal purposes. The author grapples with the history of flatulence and adeptly describes the torment caused by Elvis Presley's megacolon, which ultimately caused his demise. She also fleshes out just what constitutes the "ick factor" in this tale of ingestion, digestion and elimination. Roach's abundant footnotes serve as entertaining detours throughout this edifying excursion. When a topic heads toward sketchy territory, the author politely provides a heads-up for squeamish readers. Whether Roach is writing about lateral tongue protrusion, the taboo surrounding saliva or whether "rectal consumption of beef broth breaks one's Lenten fast," the author entertains with this incredible journey into the netherworld of the human body. A touchy topic illuminated with wit and rigor, packed with all the stinky details.

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Customer Reviews (56)
- Anonymous
September 21, 2013
Good read
Enjoyable, informative, fascinating, and funny. My first Mary Roach book - definitely not my last.
- Anonymous
April 29, 2013
- Anonymous
June 15, 2013
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