The Body is possibly Bill Bryson’s longest and most interesting reference book yet.
I had high expectations, and was not disappointed.
What I Liked
Bill Bryson seemed to take the best writing tactics from Home and A Short History and work them in, so that the writing is never boring. It has his trademark blend of fascinating anecdote, provocative facts, impeccable research, and structured flow.
Since it deals with health, it’s much more engaging and useful than some of the architecture sections in Home or astronomy sections in A Short History. There were plenty of moments when I immediately checked on my own body or made notes to do further research.
On a related note, I love his tone and perspective in sections about aging, death, and memory. It’s crazy to think of your body as just a bundle of coordinated but independently functioning pieces that work on their own programming.
What I Did Not Like
There’s honestly not a whole lot that I did not like.
On one hand, the book was long – his longest yet actually. But on the other hand, I think it could have been much longer. There is just so much to cover that he has to skip over giant bodies (pun) of knowledge.
The book was entertaining and educational for sure. But it was also sobering and thoughtful. The body is both resilient and fragile. It’s easy to be hard on it and complain about it…but I know that I could do more to take care of it and be even more grateful for it.
Also, it’s easy to take public health and medicine for granted and to forget that there have been thousands of doctors, researchers, patients, and observant amateurs who gave their lives to gain a slightly better understanding of how the body works.
There is no single genius of medicine, but thousands of thousands of individuals contributing a little bit of knowledge that over time has accumulated into a giant body of life-saving and life-extending knowledge.