Book Review – The Body: A Guide for Occupants  

By Bill Bryson
Published by Doubleday

Because I did A level zoology at school along with a long defunct pre-nursing O level called Anatomy, Physiology and Hygiene – and have always avidly devoured newspaper reports of medical research and developments – I thought I had reasonable knowledge of how the human body works. Then I read this book.

It’s impeccably researched, as accessible as any novel and the usual insouciant Bryson-ese makes it wryly funny. Before I was ten pages in, I realised that my knowledge is scanty, superficial and 50 years out of date. No, I didn’t know how the eye works (although I thought I did).

Bryson is also good on scientists, often eccentric, who’ve made discoveries, done unlikely things – or come up with unproven nonsense. Chevalier Quixote Jackson (1865-1958), for example, was an American doctor who devoted his career to designing instruments and refining methods for retrieving swallowed and inhaled objects.   

The statistics are fun too. Every hour your heart dispenses around 260 litres of blood and a teaspoon of human blood contains 25 billion red blood cells, each of which contains 250,000 molecules of haemoglobin. “Within your modest frame are 25,000 miles of blood vessels” he observes helpfully,

Even if you don’t think you’re interested in human biology you will be as soon as you start to read this entertaining, informative book which ranges joyfully across every bit of the body from brain to feet.

Review by Susan Elkin

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