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Book review: The Body by Bill Bryson

As the pandemic rages on, what does it really mean to take care of your body?

Amanda Chang


Published: 13 August 2021, 5:06 PM

Genre: Non-Fiction

Bill Bryson’s The Body answers this question scientifically, giving readers an in-depth tour of their temporary occupancy – a sack of meat and bones known as “the human body”. 

Starting from the head, moving into the brain and down through the digestive system, readers are introduced to different parts of the body and how they function. Along the way, Bryson provides interesting insights to otherwise every day habits such as sneezing and hiccups, while busting common medical myths (Nope! Taking vitamin C does NOT help with getting rid of a cold.) 

Moving into university, I shrank away from pursuing healthcare as a course of study (I am deathly afraid of blood). Despite my lack of interest in the subject matter, Bryson writes with charm, and his wonder for the miracle of the human body was infectious. I particularly enjoyed the first chapter (How to Build a Human) as scientific facts about the miracle of life were presented as a continual reminder of how much we take for granted in the everyday minutiae. 

Readers are inspired to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, alerting readers to take care of their body and appreciate the sensation of being alive – because so many functions of the body align miraculously every day to keep them that way. The mechanisms of the human body are truly amazing, where decades of technological breakthroughs have been unable to replicate the mechanisms in your eye traveling across this sentence. 

Bryson celebrates the unknown, continually acknowledging the gaping hole of knowledge in the medical field towards various parts of the body (did you know that doctors still can’t agree on what the function of an appendix is?). I found this to inspire even greater wonder towards the human body – that we can be so foreign and familiar with ourselves. 

 

For those who aren’t really acquainted with the human body, The Body helps to dispel plenty of myths. PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA CHANG

 

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I found the relevance of this book further heightened. Bryson sheds light on trial and error in the field of medical science, refusing to shy away from the unethical practices undertaken to pursue medical improvements (gravedigging, lobotomies, etc. It’s all terrifying and intriguing to read about).

Despite all that remains unknown about the human body (and that is A LOT), this book instilled an appreciation for how far we’ve come in terms of the modern treatments and medicines available to us. Centuries of medical research have allowed us to miraculously obtain a vaccine for a disease in the timespan of a year, and this pursuit of knowledge is amazing to behold.

However, I did grow frustrated towards the use of medical jargon throughout the book and found myself doubling back to refer to earlier definitions of these technical terms. In hindsight, this made for an even more rewarding read as I slowly learnt the details of the human body. 

The Body instilled a new sense of gratitude in me for the life I’ve been given. The human body does not give up easily, and I hope this book reminds you not to give up on yourself too. 


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