I suppose it’s no surprise. This pandemic has been a forced education for a lot of us as to how the body works, or doesn’t, what antibodies do, what are T cells and RNA based vaccines.
It’s a bit ghoulish, this fascination with the human body and why we are so susceptible to an itsy bitsy virus that has more changes than your average diva. But I have found my need to understand more about us, and why we are the way we are and how we got here has grown alongside each lockdown and each development.
I’ve consumed a lot of books. Not literally, I’m still addicted to cake so papier-mâché pudding hasn’t caught on.
In a spirit of helping your peeps benefit from my fixation I thought I’d share a few of the works with you. I have chosen those which are readable and, to me, seem credible. If you’re looking for support of some kind of intelligent design in so far as we humans are concerned look away now. It’s remarkable we function at all. Frankly there have been more compromises in our evolution than a millennia of marriages.
In no particular order (cos they’re all good)
1. The Body by Bill Bryson
Yes, I know, I love Bryson and if you’ve not read his Short History of Nearly Everything, why not? This though focuses on how the body works and in his inimitable style has you informed and amused in equal measure. This is the blurby bit
‘We spend our whole lives in one body and yet most of us have practically no idea how it works and what goes on inside it.The idea of the book is simply to try to understand the extraordinary contraption that is us.’
Bill Bryson sets off to explore the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself. Full of extraordinary facts and astonishing stories The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a brilliant, often very funny attempt to understand the miracle of our physical and neurological make up.
2. Human Errors by Nathan Lents
This is a fascinating read and there were so many ‘never’ moments in it that I felt I’d need to donate my ignorance to science when I die because it has to be worth a study to see if it can be avoided. It takes each section of the body and explains how and why it works, or rather doesn’t, as it does, or doesn’t? I’m not making sense, am I?
Right, an example. As you’ll know we need a balanced diet to survive. Failure to eat our greens and we get scurvy, lack of victim D and it’s rickets, vitamin B and it’s beri beri. We have to eat meat to get B12… But why therefore does a cow, a mammal with a similar need for vitamins as we humans manage on grass alone? The cow has a complicated metabolism of four stomachs and through these it gets all it needs. And we have the genes that would allow us to do the same only… we’d be as trapped as a cow, needing to stay close to our feed stuff. Our adaptability, the sheer variety in our diet that allows us to live one the Siberian steppes and the desert regions of sub Saharan Africa also means that we have to have that variety or we will die. Our evolution that allows us to migrate and seek out new lifestyles is also a dangerous limitation.
Or why do our children when born need so much nurturing and care unlike say a new born calf that is on its feet and feeding itself within minutes? Our bloody Brain of course. We weren’t meant to have such big brains. Of course, having them is a huge evolutionary benefit, up there with opposable thumbs and soft toilet paper, but the evolution of our brains didn’t coincide with an evolution in the birthing canal. It meant our young are all born premature, though they are now evolved to survive that premature ejection and suffer if they aren’t told to eff off, like now. Yet in an ideal, in a planned evolution we’d be like chimps where their young can cling on, allowing their parents to get on with providing for themselves and enjoying some me time.
You may know all this. Ya boo sucks, if you did. I was grateful to learn this. Here’s some blurby stuff…
We like to think of ourselves as highly evolved creatures. But if we are evolution’s greatest creation, why are we so badly designed? We have retinas that face backward, the stump of a tail, and way too many bones in our wrists. We must find vitamins and nutrients in our diets that other animals simply make for themselves. Millions of us can’t reproduce successfully without help from modern science. We have nerves that take bizarre paths, muscles that attach to nothing, and lymph nodes that do more harm than good. And that’s just the beginning of the story.
As biologist Nathan H. Lents explains, our evolutionary history is a litany of mistakes, each more entertaining and enlightening than the last. As we will discover, by exploring human shortcomings, we can peer into our past, because each of our flaws tells a story about our species’ evolutionary history.
A rollicking, deeply informative tour of our four-billion-year-long evolutionary saga, Human Errors both celebrates our imperfections – for our mutations are, in their own way, a testament to our species’ greatness – and offers an unconventional accounting of the cost of our success.
3. Spoon Fed by Tim Spector
For Brits who signed up to report their covidity on the Covid 19 app that generates an accurate position on the infection of the nation beyond those who’ve had a test, you’ll know Tim Spector as the man behind the app. This book however looks at food and what and why we eat and why most commonly held positions are often wrong, misleading or propaganda. If you want to understand whether having another coffee is actually the best thing you can do today, read this book. Here’s the blurby bit…
We are all bombarded with advice about what we should and shouldn’t eat, and new scientific discoveries are announced every day. Yet the more we are told about nutrition, the less we seem to understand.
Through his pioneering scientific research, Tim Spector has been shocked to discover how little good evidence there is for many of our most deep-rooted ideas about food. In a series of short, myth-busting chapters, Spoon-Fed reveals why almost everything we’ve been told about food is wrong. Spector explores the scandalous lack of good science behind many medical and government food recommendations, and how the food industry holds sway over these policies and our choices.
Spoon-Fed is a groundbreaking book that forces us to question every diet plan, official recommendation, miracle cure or food label we encounter, and encourages us to rethink our whole relationship with food. Diet may be the most important medicine we all possess. We urgently need to learn how best to use it, not just for our health as individuals but for the future of the planet.
4. And finally… This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay
If you haven’t found this yet, it is a must. Ok, as a Brit the horror story of life as a junior doctor in the NHS is very close to home, but I’m pretty sure a lot of this will resonate across continents and, indeed professions. Not so much gallows as gastric humour, or humours, this isn’t for reading over a plate of lightly sautéed offal, but it is a gem. And it has several hard and harsh serious points to make about our national treasure. Read it and laugh and cry (and promise never get ill around Christmas).
Blurb coming in…
Welcome to the life of a junior doctor: 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions, a constant tsunami of bodily fluids, and the hospital parking meter earns more than you.
Scribbled in secret after endless days, sleepless nights and missed weekends, Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt provides a no-holds-barred account of his time on the NHS front line. Hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking, this diary is everything you wanted to know – and more than a few things you didn’t – about life on and off the hospital ward.