I loved Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers when I read it last year, so I was quite excited to pick this up. It’s all to do with the digestive system and the research that goes into understanding it and treating its problems. It’s a topic that must have a lot of bizarre stories, which is what Mary Roach likes to dig up. As someone with Crohn’s disease, I figured this would be right up my alley. They even mentioned it in the blurb!
I wanted to love this, but I found a lot of it quite dull. Stiff was full of really interesting and surprising anecdotes from throughout history. I couldn’t wait to see what else was coming while I was reading it. I found with this book, I often just couldn’t wait to get off the current topic. There were parts of this book I really enjoyed, but it did drag on at times. There’s really only so much I find interesting about saliva.
The chapter on fecal transplants was interesting, as I’ve been hearing a lot about that, and it looks like it could potentially be the future of intestinal treatment. She described it as being held back, or slowed down maybe, by the Ick Factor – the idea that certain unglamourous ailments might not get as much publicity as they need, and therefore not as much research funding as they need.
I also found the story of the doctor William Beaumont and his experiments on Alexis St. Martin fascinating. Beaumont treated St. Martin after he accidentally took a shotgun shot to the stomach. He lived, somewhat miraculously, but was left with a fistula in his stomach. Beaumont hired him as a handy man and used the hole to do experiments. He would place items in St. Martin’s stomach to see how quickly they’d dissolve, and he would even extract stomach acid to examine and send to other researchers. It was a little disturbing the things he did to that man while he was awake.
Even though I wasn’t blow away by this, I do plan to continue reading Mary Roach’s books. Stiff was great, and this still had its moments.