Bill Bryson can take any topic and spool it into the most entertaining thing you’ve ever read. He tackles diverse subjects, from hiking the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods) to, well—everything (A Short History of Nearly Everything).
In his latest book, The Body: A Guide for Occupants, Bryson divides the body’s various parts and processes into 23 chapters, with subject headings such as “The Heart and Blood,” “The Guts” and “Nerves and Pain.” Each relatively short chapter is chock-full of clear, in-depth explanations of the body and its components, focusing just the right amount of facts and attention on each area to keep the reader riveted and eager to dive into the next topic.
As with his previous writings, Bryson demonstrates his gift for putting science in layman’s terms, deftly melding the most incredible statistics with wit to expose humorous and fascinating aspects of the human condition. He relates these nuggets of information to everyday life, such as when he compares a cell to a little room that is “of itself as nonliving as any other room.” Yet when combined with the busy, also nonliving things housed within its walls—such as proteins, DNA and mitochondria—life is created.
Throughout the book, Bryson highlights parts of the human physique that are mysteries even to doctors and scientists. He creatively intertwines amazing medical advances, such as transplant surgery and antibiotics, with topics that are still very much unknown, such as the immune system and allergies. It’s rather humbling to realize that there’s so much we don’t know about the place that houses all of our thoughts, feelings and physical attributes. As Bryson so effectively conveys in The Body, we truly are a work in progress.