Did you know: a 30-year-old Bangladeshi is more likely to have a longer lifespan and less likelihood of contracting stroke, diabetes, and heart disease than a 30-year-old black man from Harlem? Well, now you can thank Bill Bryson for that piece of knowledge.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants is full of such tidbits and has that unmistakable, lucid style of writing that is Bryson’s trademark. It’s as if you’ve sat down to have a riveting evening conversation with a knowledgeable man whose passion oozes off the page.
Moving on from A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson turns inward, highlighting the highly improbable but glorious complexity of our existence. He writes about the body as if it’s a catalog of wonders, persuading you to believe we’re exceptional. “There is enough of you to leave the solar system,” he points out. “You are in the most literal sense cosmic.”
And yet, he takes a very humanistic approach to tell the story of human bodies, these miraculous machines of ours. In between talking about what (little) we know and (well, mostly) don’t know about our bodies, he weaves in stories of great individuals who dedicated their lives to figuring us out. He highlights people who gave it their all to understand why we are and aren’t; he also examines the horrific things we’ve done along the way.
The Body is a fantastic read. It’s much shorter in length and filled with snack-size chapters that whizz by at a breakneck pace. But don’t be fooled: they’re filled with a disgusting amount of research, drawing on the expertise of dozens of professionals. Bryson’s wit also shines through, making this quite easily one of the best reads of my life and most probably yours, too.