Thursday, May 21, 2020

"The Body" by Bill Bryson - A Guide for Occupants - Timely and Prescient

I have known Bill Bryson's work primarily through his thoroughly entertaining travel books like "Notes from a Small Island," "A Walk in the Woods," and "In a Sunburned Country."  In writing "The Body," for the most part Bryson sets aside his signature wry humor, and tells a straight forward account of how the human body is put together, how it functions, how it succumbs to disease and ultimately to death. He has penned a significant and helpful addition to his already impressive literary corpus.

Although I am not an M.D., I have more medical knowledge than your average lay person; I have worked in the past as a Medical Technologist at leading hospitals, and have delivered three babies (a story for another time!) Yet, even with my extensive medical knowledge, I found myself learning many new things in each chapter of this remarkably readable book.

The author organizes the material in a logical fashion, focusing each chapter on one of the body's systems:The Brain, The Head, The Heart and Blood, Digestion, the Nervous System. Along the way, he shares anecdotes and historical tidbits that make this work a living and breathing document. He places Leonardo Da Vinci's early work in anatomy and post mortem dissection in its proper historical perspective, and tells the stories of many of the unsung heroes whose discoveries and innovations have led to significantly longer lifespans and the eradication of countless diseases.

Bryson was prescient in Chapter 20 - When Things Go Wrong: Diseases. He discusses flu outbreaks of the past and future.

"In the event of a really catastrophic epidemic - one that killed children and young adults in large numbers, say - Kinch believes we wouldn't be able to produce vaccine fast enough to treat everyone, even if the vaccine was effective.

'The fact is', he says, 'we are really no better prepared for a bad outbreak today than we were when Spanish flu killed tens of millions of people a hundred years ago. The reason we haven't had another experience like that isn't because we have been especially vigilant, it's because we have been lucky.'" (p. 334)

Perhaps this is a good reason to order and read this book as you continue to shelter in place and maintain social distancing!

This book is a must read for anyone who wants a better understanding of how we, as occupants of the miraculous organism that is the human body, grow from embryo to the end of life.