Book Review: Gulp by Mary Roach

Author: Mary Roach
Title: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal 
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2013)
Other Books Read by the Same Author:


Mary Roach, the popular science writer with the sense of humor of a 12-year-old, is in her element in this book that asks the questions we don’t dare to ask about the alimentary canal. After all the human body is nothing more than a tube from mouth to anus with limbs attached, is it not? So it is natural to want to learn about smelling, tasting, chewing, swallowing, digesting, and excreting … as well as a quite a few things that humans do with their alimentary canals that they weren’t intended for.

Here’s a list of some of the topics Roach examines from reading the scientific literature and with interviews with researchers:

  • Olive oil tasting
  • Pet food flavoring (and the humans who taste them)
  • Organ meat consumption
  • Fletcherizing
  • Saliva
  • Why we like chewing crunchy food
  • Stomach expansion
  • Competitive eating
  • “Hooping” or smuggling items in the rectum
  • Methane & hydrogen in flattus
  • Rectal feeding
  • Coprophagia
  • Ritual enemas
  • Megacolon and the death of Elvis
  • Fecal transplants

After reading that list, you are either fascinated or disgusted. Go with that feeling when determining whether this book is right for you.

Favorite Passages:

“You will occasionally not believe me, but my aim is not to disgust….I don’t want you to say ‘This is gross.’ I want you to say, ‘I thought this might be gross, but it’s really interesting.’ Okay, and maybe a little gross.”

The moral of the story is this: It takes an ill-advised mix of ignorance, arrogance, and profit motive to dismiss the wisdom of the human body in favor of some random notion you’ve hatched or heard and branded as true. By wisdom I mean the collective improvements of millions of years of evolution. The mind objects strongly to shit, but the body has no idea what we’re on about.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2