"A little science, a little history, a little humor and something gross."

Article by liz

Mary Roach's humor and indefatigable spirit of adventure have crowned her as one of America's most popular science authors, despite not being an actual scientist herself. Her role as a scientific outsider makes her the perfect avatar for conversations with experts (conversations she admits needing to fake her way through sometimes), as she makes some of the most cutting-edge and fascinating research accessible to all readers.

When asked by NPR's Peter Sagal how she chooses her topics, Roach replied, "Well, it's got to have a little science, it's got to have a little history, a little humor--and something gross." And what's funnier--or grosser--than our bodies? All of Roach's books focus on the human body in some way, whether it's in death, in space, or in the intricate workings of our own physiology. Humans can be a little scared of the workings of our own bodies, but Roach takes our hand and leads us through sometimes taboo subjects with ease.

Roach's books come to life with laugh-out-loud funny and vivid writing about not only the history of her topics, but her experiences researching them: Roach is never afraid to put her body on the line (and memorably in BONK, her husband's, as well) for the sake of science. In case you're unfamiliar with Roach, we've put together a primer on her body of work to make you a Mary Roach expert by the end of April, just in time for her event at Brazos Bookstore on April 29.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Cover Image
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9780393324822
Availability: OUT OF PRINT - Not Available for Order
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - May 17th, 2004

Roach's first book, an offshoot of a column she wrote for Salon.com, describes the strange things that happen to human cadavers used for science, and the strange and hilarious things that happen to our bodies after we die. STIFF gives a comprehensive overview of cadaver uses, from the history of cadaver use, including body snatching and the first dissections, to current medical research, crash-test research, and one memorable chapter on "How to Know If You're Dead," about beating-heart cadavers and the search for scientific proof of the soul. STIFF can understandably be a little macabre, but ultimately, Roach demystifies death and the industry surrounding it. Funny, yet respectful, STIFF gives dignity to the sometimes inglorious fates of the bodies of our dearly departed.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393329124
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - October 17th, 2006

Perhaps inspired by the latter chapters of STIFF, SPOOK follows the people using science to try and answer what happens after we die. Can we prove there's a soul? What about an afterlife? Roach's lively experiences include a sheep rancher who weighs his charges as they die, scientists who attempt to record near-death experiences in operating rooms, conrolled experiments with mediums, psychoacoustics experts, and many more. SPOOK begins with Roach announcing her own skepticism with questions of faith: when her mother read her biblical stories as a child, Roach's firmly scientific mind forever searched for the rational explanations behind them. Even from a skeptical point of view, however, Roach never mocks her subjects, even if their ideas are seen as more out-there than others. Roach has a huge empathy for even the most peculiar-seeming ideas and treats all her subjects with respect, giving her topic the full, fascinating treatment it deserves.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393334791
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 6th, 2009

BONK brings light to the study of human sexual physiology. Roach, as usual, goes digging for answers for the questions no one else is asking, and does honor to the scientists who do. BONK unravels the history and mythology of sex studies, from Kinsey's attic to pig farms, quantifying the excruciatingly bizarre ways humans attempt to categorize and study sex. BONK is full of facts, and Roach takes the highlights of the dry science and gives us a fascinating insight into just how strange our reproductive methods are. With her usual verve, a totally fearless Roach even puts her own body on the line for her research, bringing her husband with her to London to participate in a "coital imaging study" (read: sex under an ultrasound machine). Told in Roach's trademark comic style, BONK is revealing and riveting, and sometimes cringeworthy. Roach knows her audience well, though, and spares us only the details we truly don't want to know.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393339918
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 4th, 2011

Roach loves to take her research to extremes, and what could be more extreme than space? In PACKING FOR MARS, Roach examines the study of bodies in space, asking important questions like how much, exactly, can a body handle in space? What's space's effect on the body? To answer these questions, Roach interviews astronauts and visits to space agencies to investigate their simulators and research methods. PACKING FOR MARS gives us an unflinching look at the less glamorous and glorious aspects of space travel, including the questions of sex in space, body odor in space, and zero gravity everything, including using the bathroom, eating, and what happens if you throw up in a space suit. As always, Roach celebrates human ingenuity, the scientists making human ingenuity possible by inventing the perfect foods for space, and the people who make themselves guinea pigs for science by lying motionless in a bed for months on end.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393348743
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 1st, 2014

Roach's most recent book takes us on a journey through the alimentary canal, or for lay people, the tube that spans our bodies from mouth to rear, encompassing the whole of the digestive system. Roach handles the slightly taboo topics of eating, digestion, and elimination with grace, tact, and the sense of humor needed when one is talking about the properties of saliva and the details of smuggling drugs in one's colon. For GULP, Roach again puts herself on the line in spectacular fashion, when she convinces one researcher to put drops of hydrochloric acid on her wrist so she can feel what stomach acid is really like. As we progress along the alimentary canal, GULP divulges such gems as the physics of perfect crunchiness (how many bubbles have to pop in our mouths per minute for something to seem really crunchy?) and exactly how researchers divine and design the taste of pet food. With GULP, Roach proves once again her commitment to the underappreciated and unsung history of body science, and her dedication to all the researchers who go to the greatest lengths to give us information about our bodies. Reserve your paperback copy of GULP and immerse yourself in Roach's energy and wit today!

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