Of the many things you can say about the books written by Mary Roach, having bland titles is not one of them. I came across her first book, Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, while selecting consumer health books at my former library. It stood out from the usual titles I ordered, such as Suzanne Somers’ Eat Cheat and Melt the Fat Away and Dr. Atkin’s New Diet Revolution. I like to think that Roach fashions her titles as a kindness to the potential reader. They are a not-so-gentle reminder that her books are not for the squeamish or easily offended.
Stiff sets the pattern for all her books. Not being a scientist herself, but fascinated by the topic, she goes out into the field and asks the experts what exactly it is they are doing with all those bodies “donated to science”. Be prepared to learn about the benefits of surgery on the dead, the use of cadavers in crash tests, the many stages of decay, among other grisly topics. Roach has a knack for asking questions and eliciting responses that bring out the absurdity and humor in each situation she encounters. Not above the frey, she also lets the reader know her wishes for her own remains.
After finding out what happens to the body after death, you might want to investigate the soul. If so, read Roach’s examination of the world beyond in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. While she debunks many crackpot theories, Roach keeps an open mind. Genuine attempts to try to prove concepts like reincarnation, the soul and talking with the dead are examined. She can’t help it if the people promoting them are a bit off.
Definitely for adults only, but her most hilarious work to date, is Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. For propriety’s sake, this is one you need to discover on your own. Let’s just say she and her husband deserve a prize for being able to perform their conjugal duties at the Diagnostic Testing Unit of London’s Heart Hospital. All their activity was observed and scanned in the name of scientific inquiry, of course.
If our bestial nature isn’t your thing, try Roach’s most recent book, Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void. No tale of heroes conquering the final frontier, this book is all about the practicalities. How exactly do you “go” in zero gravity? Would the mind snap during the three plus years it takes to get to Mars and back? What is in Tang anyway? The author talks with the scientists and astronauts to find the answers with her trademark sense of humor.
Now that you know what you are getting into, why not choose the title that is best for you?