The first time I read a Mary Roach book, I was instantly obsessed. Who knew someone was out there writing weird science books that answer all the questions I didn’t even know to ask?
I was writing a story for my college yearbook about the biology department and the not-so-little secret that there were two human cadavers on campus. I met with the human anatomy professor, who brought me into the lab and let me take a peek while she answered my endless questions about the emotional work that comes with working with a real human body. She explained the ethics they must follow, and how it’s much more useful to identify body parts on the real thing rather than plastic models. I nearly passed out.
Afterward, she lent me Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers and I’ve gobbled up any cool, gross, weird science book I could get my hands on since.
Here are some of my all-time faves, each of which resulted in many a long walk with my husband where I tell him all the fun facts I learned that day.
Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind by Sue Black
Sue Black is a forensic anthropologist and anatomist who studies human remains to determine a person’s identification and cause of death. Written in Bone works its way down the human skeleton, starting at the skull, detailing the kinds of information our bones contain—approximate age, sex, height, weight—even when that’s all that’s left. She includes anecdotes from her work in the field, relaying confounding cases where her knowledge of human development was vital. Did you know babies are born with, like, a zillion bones that fuse together to form a proper skeleton as they age? SO. COOL.
Gory Details: Adventures From the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt
My previous writing about this book is simple: “Weird, gross science! With humor!” I stand by it. Erika Engelhaupt is a science reporter who has covered all kinds of bizarre and fascinating topics for National Geographic. Gory Details is a compilation of the weirdest of those things. If you don’t want to read about a person who had a cockroach stuck in their ear canal (WHAT) or why some bodies float and others sink (huh), maybe skip this one.
Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front (and Back) by Mara Altman
Mara Altman takes a very Mary Roach approach to the questions she has about the human body—Why do women have to shave their legs and armpits? Why do dogs like sniffing crotches? What makes people faint?—and hunts down experts to answer those questions for her. She’s hilarious. I love Gross Anatomy, especially the bit about the butthole having two sphincters that tell you whether it’s a fart or a poop.
Do you have a favorite weird science book? Please tell me all about it in the comments so I can read it immediately!
The Value of Mental Health Memoirs from the Sidelines
I wrote a bit more in-depth about my love for these mental health memoirs after sharing a few of the books here a few months ago.
Truthfully, I’m in a bit of a slump. Not a reading slump, but a life slump. I’ve realized I want to enjoy—like, the deep-down kind of joy I get when learning weird science things from these books—the things I spend my time on. Maybe I don’t want every facet of my life to be books anymore. Maybe I don’t want to be glued to the internet, which mostly makes me feel bad about myself. Or maybe I do. I don’t know.
All this to say: I haven’t read a book in a week. I’m not reading anything at the moment. It feels like a nice break.
In case you missed ’em, or want to peep the archives:
I hope you’re reading or doing something that teaches you something new that you just HAVE to tell everyone you see.
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Mary Roach is a national treasure.
I enjoyed The Icepick Surgeon, which is like weird science mixed with criminals who thought doing the science would help them, but instead it was wayyy wrong!