Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Mary Roach

Why I looked at this book

This book is a contender for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books

First impressions

From the sample this looks like an accessible look at what happens to the food we eat - the first chapter looks at the sense of taste, and manages to find plenty to interest the reader while keeping entirely non-technical. I felt that Roach's earlier book Packing for Mars was a bit scatalogical. Roach says her aim is not to disgust, and that she tries to exercise restraint - the sample seems to bear this out, but we will have to see whether this continues as we progress down the digestive tract.

Main review

At first I thought the book worked well. I felt that Roach lived up to her promise not to make this a book of scatalogical humour. She looks at studies of various parts of the alimentary canal, and interviews the relevant scientists. I found it a bit off putting that she goes in to some detail describing the appearance of the people she interviews, but I can see that for many people this adds to the interest. There was much of interest concerning taste, digestion etc. However, I felt that I got stuck at the large intestine. Having to plough through chapters on rectal smuggling, I began to wonder who this book was for. I wouldn't think this suitable for children, and it's not particularly entertaining. I really found it difficult to read near mealtimes etc, so it took me a while to finish the book.

All in all, I thought the book, at 340 pages, was too long. If Roach had left out some of the later chapters, and kept the book under 200 pages I feel that it would have been a lot more readable. Hence I wouldn't tip it as a winner of the Royal Society Winton Prize.

Reviews Elsewhere

Lots of positive Amazon Reviews , and the few negative ones say that the book is rather lightweight. Goodreads has a huge number of reviews, although the score there is a bit lower. Jon Ronson at the New York Times didn't enjoy it, partly because it was just telling people what they already know, but there are plenty of other reviews on the web - too many to look at here - which rate it highly. Maybe I'm just to sensitive in finding it hard to read about this stuff.