If Our Bodies Could Talk by James Hamblin
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Reviews
Best for: You, assuming you like quality science writing, humor, and an unexpected amount of social justice talk.
In a nutshell: Journalist and doctor answers questions about our bodies.
Line that sticks with me: (mostly because it’s demonstrative of the author’s dry humor) “But in search of an actual definition, Cleveland clinic begs the question. “Sudden cardiac death is a sudden, unexpected death caused by loss of heart function.” (You guys, why do you have a website?)” p289
Why I chose it: Stopped by the bookstore looking for travel books for an upcoming trip. Saw this (autographed copy to boot, which means sadly I missed his visit to Seattle), flipped through the table of contents, and knew I had to own it immediately.
Review: Ack! So good! This 350-page book is broken down into six sections – Appearing, Perceiving, Eating, Drinking, Relating, and Enduring. And while there are a dozen or so questions in each section, the responses aren’t exactly what you’d expect – they are even better. For example, a question as simple as “What are sunburns?” is answered with a discussion of what sunburns are that eventually leads to a discussion of health disparities and the Watts riots. A question about whether we need to drink 8 glasses of water is the start of a broader discussion about sweat, and juice, and vitaminwater.
It gets better. Dr. Hamblin discusses disparities in care for trans individuals, and the inherent patriarchal bias in how we look at (or don’t – the nipple discussion is fascinating) our different body parts. He tackles ‘gluten sensitivity’ and lactose tolerance (seriously, he points out that lactose intolerance is a weird and sort of racist way to frame it, considering the majority of the world’s population is not lactose tolerant), and spends a whole chunk of the book on aging and dying.
This isn’t a straightforward ‘ask question – get answer’ book; it’s more an opportunity for Dr. Hamblin to quickly answer basic questions and then use them as jumping off points for deeper and more interesting discussions. And it’s so funny. Not constant, joke-joke-joke funny, but witty and dry. I guffawed and laughed out loud multiple times. Nothing is straightforward – I don’t think he ever actually says whether we need to drink 8 glasses of water a day (or more, or less) – but that’s not exactly the point. The point is a discussion about hydration, and dehydration, and over-hydration. It got me thinking about many of the topics in ways I hadn’t before.
Go. Read this.