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The Worst Book I Have Ever Read - Gulp: Travels Around the Gut by Mary Roach

TET and Mary Roach's Book, Gulp.
TET and Mary Roach's Book, Gulp.

I'm the kind of person who only reads one physical book at a time. For context I consider a 'book' to be anything over 100 pages of mostly text. Basically your typical work of fiction novel or factual biography.

It's not that I can't read more than one book at a time, I just choose not to because I don't set a lot of time aside for reading. Maybe 30 minutes a day when I'm on a good run with a really engaging text.

Little did I know that Mary Roach's Gulp: Travels Around the Gut*, a book of 317 pages (minus the Acknowledgments and Bibliography) would become a bottle neck for my reading for the next three and a half years. As such, I'm calling it the worst book I have ever read.

Despite how long it took me to read, it is not a bad book in the slightest, and is in fact, quite light, somewhat entertaining, reading for a book that explores the science, and the resilience of the human digestive system. 

I'm no stranger to reading science texts designed to make more consumable reading of difficult subjects like Quantum Theory. For a while, in my mid twenties, I went through a stretch of reading such books just to see if I was smart enough to not just get through them but to understand them as well.

The problem is, I was recommended this book by YouTuber, and self proclaimed shitty robots maker queen, Simone Giertz. She randomly recommended the book in one of her videos (that I can't find now) not for sponsorship reasons but just as a book she thought her viewers may find interesting. 

Though in looking for the video I discovered that Simone and Mary were once on the same bill for a speaking engagement back in 2016, Nerd Nite East Bay #43, which is likely how Simone came by Mary's next book after Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War.

Anyway, she said something along the lines of if you ever wanted to know the ins and outs of how the human digestive system works then Mary's book was just the ticket. As someone who's had a somewhat challenging relationship with my insides I thought it may give me some clues beyond my local GP's 'It's probably a virus' and 'I don't really know' insights.

Unfortunately the book was not what I was expecting at all. Sure, I expected some science on how the whole digestive system works, I just wasn't really prepared for an entire history (seemingly) on the study and science behind every part of the process of eating, digesting, and excreting.

That's what the book is. It doesn't really offer any solutions if you do have any digestive issues, though you may piece something together that may relate to what you're dealing with, from what you learn. 

Beyond that it's a start to finish account of how each part of our digestive system works, along with a tour through some of the most interesting and curious studies that have been done on various parts over the years, decades, maybe even centuries.

However, since it starts in the mouth, I was determined to take this journey to the very end... and it does end with shit... quite literally, as the final part of the system. It's literally a shitty ending. I thought I might learn something useful.

As it turns out, it's not a book I enjoyed reading even though it's not a difficult read, and humorous in places. Eventually I just petered out into not reading for quite some time. Picking the book up ever so occasionally to chip away at getting through it.

Finally I got to the point, just like the book, where a last ditch final push (yes that's a constipation metaphor), might just free me of the worst book I have ever read.

To be honest, I can't say I learned anything that I'll retain going forward. I've already forgotten most of the first half of the book while still reading it.

The only real revelations I got, that are likely to stick, is that Elvis didn't die of a drug overdose, and that we, as a species, are simply highly evolved food tubes with arms and legs.

If you're all about the science of the human body, this is probably the book for you. If you're wanting to shed light on some mystery stomach issues you are having that your doctor thinks is probably just indigestion, this is not the book for you... though it may steer you away from over the counter probiotics if you make it to the closing pages. 

Purchase Gulp: Travels Around the Gut from Amazon.


*Also known as 'Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal'

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