Thursday, November 2, 2017


Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War
© 2016 Mary Roach
285 pages

I've never given much thought to the idea of military science. What might it involve? The chemistry of better weapons, the psychology behind successful strategy gambits? The science encountered here, in Mary Roach's Grunt, is similar to that performed on the early astronauts and the materials that would take them itno space. What happens to the human body under these conditions? What kind of material is optimal, based on these variables? What if this situation happens? If that sounds plodding, you don't know Mary Roach. Her books mix comedy and science, and achieve the comedy both by zeroing-in on subjects that are taboo (dead people and feces, say) and through Roach's droll delivery. Here she plagues military researchers and servicemen by investigating the labs where combat-ready clothing is engineered, watches seamen struggle to escape a sinking submarine simulation on scant sleep, reviews the progress of artificial limb-building considers the virtue of applying maggots to a flesh wound, and plays with a TCAP system so soldiers in the field can communicate without destroying their hearing. The experiments conducted to improve men and materials (or in the case of submarine crews, to tax them further on less sleep) are typically interesting in themselves, but Roach adds offbeat appeal by sharing weirder studies. (One study indicated that polar bears were fantastically interested in menstrual blood, but not by blood drawn from veins. This is apparently a polar bear thing, as black bears were equally bored by drawn blood and menstrual blood.)

Interesting as ever, but -- as usual -- not something to read with lunch.


  1. This does sound interesting. Though not exactly the same, when I was younger I read a lot of Military History. Occasionally it would touch on these subjects.

    I tend to like quirky books that mix humor with science and history so I think that I would like this.

    1. Roach is a ball provided the reader isn't too easily grossed out. The first book I read by her was about the lives of corpses, so I knew was I was in for going in!


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