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Daily Archive: 13/11/2022

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November 2022

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The Unseen Body by Jonathan Reisman

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Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in the human body, but also books that can’t quite be categorized.

In a nutshell:
Author Reisman discusses different parts of the human body while also sharing his experiences with it, his experiences with patients, and … sometimes food?

Worth quoting:
“Empathy is not always easy, but it always matters.”

“The medical community’s ignorance, as well as our biases, means that the nutrition advice we give to patients changes constantly.”

Why I chose it:
I like kind of weird little books like this one.

Review:
Reisman went to medical school a bit later in life, so he had some time between university and medical school to travel, work other jobs, and get to know himself a bit, and I think that helps give this book a different feel than other books about the human body. It’s not ‘funny’ like a Mary Roach book, but it does have moments of humor. It’s more poetic, but it isn’t written like prose. It’s hard to label.

That said, it was fun to read. Each chapter focuses on one part of the body – usually an organ, though sometimes something like urine or our fingers and toes. In each chapter he shares some facts about the organ, but doesn’t deeply dive into it. Instead, he then usually shares a story of his experience learning about the organ, and a patient who he treated who had difficulties with that organ. He then often shares his own experience, though not often in expected ways. Many of the chapters, for example, talk about the organs as food (not the human version, obviously). For example, did you know that it is illegal in the US to sell lungs to humans for consumption as food? Has been since the early 1970s (and Scotland is mad, because Haggis includes animal lungs, so they can’t export it to the US).

The chapter on the brain I found to be most interesting, because Reisman doesn’t focus on what one might expect – say, dementia – but instead on the impact of altitude on the brain. He worked briefly in the Himalayas, and treated mild and severe altitude sickness. It was a fascinating chapter and a different take on the brain than what I’ve read in other books.

There is also a chapter on fat, and while it was a little challenging to read because he still uses words that pathologize weight, it was one of the more responsible and reasonable discussions I’ve seen a medical professional put in writing when talking about fat. The example of the patient he treated who was fat mostly focused on how poorly the medical community treats fat people, from doctors refusing to provide treatment to equipment not being accommodating to the size and weight of these patients.

This is probably closer to a 3.5 rating, but it’s just such an odd book sort of masquerading as a standard non-fiction popular science book that I rounded up for that.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it.