Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

by Mary Roach


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The irresistible, ever-curious, and always best-selling Mary Roach returns with a new adventure to the invisible realm we carry around inside.

“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of—or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists—who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts.

Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393348743
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 116,348
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 1100L (what's this?)

About the Author

Mary Roach is the author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Her writing has appeared in Outside, Wired, National Geographic, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.


San Francisco, California

Place of Birth:

New Hampshire


B.A., Wesleyan University, 1981

Table of Contents

Introduction 13

1 Nose Job: Tasting has little to do with taste 23

2 I'll Have the Putrescine: Your pet is not like you 41

3 Liver and Opinions: Why we eat what we eat and despise the rest 61

4 The Longest Meal: Can thorough chewing lower the national debt? 79

5 Hard to Stomach: The acid relationship of William Beaumont and Alexis St. Martin 93

6 Spit Gets a Polish: Someone ought to bottle the stuff 107

7 A Bolus of Cherries: Life at the oral processing lab 131

8 Big Gulp: How to survive being swallowed alive 149

9 Dinner's Revenge: Can the eaten eat back? 167

10 Stuffed: The science of eating yourself to death 185

11 Up Theirs: The alimentary canal as criminal accomplice 197

12 Inflammable You: Fun with hydrogen and methane 223

13 Dead Man's Bloat: And other diverting tales from the history of flatulence research 233

14 Smelling a Rat: Does noxious flatus do more than clear a room? 243

15 Eating Backward: Is the digestive tract a two-way street? 269

16 I'm All Stopped Up: Elvis Presley's megacolon and other ruminations on death by constipation 289

17 The Ick Factor: We can cure you, but there's just one thing 311

Acknowledgments 329

Bibliography 333

What People are Saying About This

Steven Pinker

Fans of lively writing will be delighted by the newest monosyllable from Mary Roach. Once again Roach boldly goes where no author has gone before, into the sciences of the taboo, the macabre, the icky, and the just plain weird. And she conveys it all with a perfect touch: warm, lucid, wry, sharing the unavoidable amusement without ever resorting to the cheap or the obvious. Yum!—Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature

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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
coopyjay More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Mary Roach's books and have immensely enjoyed them. I pre-ordered Gulp and couldn't wait to read it. It has lived up to my expectations. I love how she humorously conveys information that honestly can be pretty boring. Her little tidbits of information such as the sound of a food's crunch being little sonic booms in your mouth, keep you wanting to continue reading to find out other information that you never even really thought about before. If you liked Mary Roach's other books, you won't be disappointed in this one. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mary Roach has done it again! I very much enjoyed her digestive journey through our miraculous bodies. I highly recommend this book!
huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
I like Gulp by Mary Roach because it has good scentific information. It is also humorous. I wouldn't recommend reading Gulp while you are eating. I enjoyed her book about space exploration better than Gulp. But, this is still a good read.
SharynR More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. I love the funny way Mary Roach explains the human body. Be sure to read Stiff, Bonk, and Packing for Mars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gulp by Mary Roach is an intensely descriptive journey through the human body. While sometimes rather graphic, Roach keeps it real with her humorous approach to usually disgusting aspects of the alimentary canal, such as stomach acid and rectal drug trafficking. This is not a book you want to read if you are weak stomached, but once you make it through you will feel almost a sense of accomplishment that is right up there with acing a big test because you know you learned something. Some parts of the book move along faster than others, but your curiosity will get you through the slow parts. Each story Roach tells offers new information you will probably never use, but may come up in a Jeopardy game. Funny, witty, and surprisingly educational, Gulp is a must-read for anyone who just likes to learn and discover new things about the world, or in this case, themselves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a topic I've long been interested in. Ms. Roach does a good job of discussing a wide variety of topics and experiments related to digestion. It doesn't give an entire overview of the process, though the book is organized from entrance to exit. Some parts were really interesting; others, less so. If you are easily put off by natural bodily functions, then you will likely be disgusted by much of the content, since it contains descriptions of not-so-natural bodily functions. My favorite was the discussion of megacolon, so Mary Roach is a girl after my own heart! What it didn't include was information for a hypochondriac to self-diagnose. I kind of like that thing, so I was a little disappointed.
NJD2002 More than 1 year ago
Roach's humor and one-liners kept the book going, and there were some interesting anecdotes, but it is not as good as Bonk, Spook, or Packing for Mars.  As a warning, this book can be graphic, so if you are easily disgusted, this is not the book for you.
Shannon_Lea_Egan More than 1 year ago
I've not read very much of this book so far, but I am enjoying it VERY much. I bought it after hearing the author on NPR discussing this book. It's fantastic to me that people approach a scientific subject with humor and yet still tell everything in accurate detail. Once I digest this book, I intend to look for more by this same author. And, although I had heard of the fecal transplant methodology of resolving recurrent c-diff infections, thanks to this book I am now aware they are trying to create a tablet or capsule version of the donor poop. I imagine this will make selling this option much more palatable to patients.
MdExTx More than 1 year ago
I've been reading Mary Roach since I first discovered her in "In Health" magazine back in the '80s. This is another thoroughly researched, well written, funny book that imparts knowledge about a specific topic in the style of "Stiff", "Spook" and "Bonk". If Mary Roach writes it, I read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Bartholomew_Wood More than 1 year ago
In Gulp, Mary Roach explores the digestive tract from one end to the other, focusing not just on what happens to our food but how the scientists who study it do their work. It's interesting and informative, but Roach apparently thinks that her audience won't sit still for some facts unless they come with a good helping of jokes. Some of these are pretty funny, many are kind of obvious, and quite a few are just plain bad. Roach never met a pun she didn't like. All too many paragraphs are constructed so as to lead the reader not to a fresh insight about the science of digestion but to a moderately humorous one-liner. Quite a few of the many footnotes are there just so Mary can get off a good one. Her style, and her unshakeable belief in her own cleverness, quickly grow annoying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you don't buy this, she went into a cow's stomach for nothing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Non-fiction. I read this for the non-fiction book club at my local library (July 2014). Really interesting book, though I may have found it more so than the average person because I have GI issues. Our bodies are really interesting machines. The author has a good sense of humor and goes to some funny places that do some unusual experiments. Mary Roach visited people who are professional taste testers (e.g. olive oil), some people who explain why only smell is important to dogs when choosing their food but that cats only really care about texture so you can call their food whatever you like and it makes a difference only to the owners, scientists who determine the smell factors and components of flatulence, she enthusiastically gets a colonoscopy, and other bizarre, funny, and informative adventures. Boy the history of medicine has been quite bizarre at times. I enthusiastically recommend this one. It really helped me learn quite a bit about my own GI issues in an entertaining way and about some of the new research being done about bacteria and its importance to our digestive and overall health. I look forward to reading some of her other books, if they are half as interesting as this they will be worth the read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a wholistic nutritionist in Los Angeles. I bought this because it was recommended. I find it very disjointed. I was hoping that this could be a book I could recommend to my clients. A simple, cons ice way for them to understand bodily functions, specifically the digestive process. I found this just loaded with too much info that was not relevant, therefor a disjointed read for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very odd and entertaining book about the alimentary canal. Some parts made me laugh out loud while others created an uneasy nauceous feeling. If you are interested in anatomy and science read this humous and informative book.
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psychedforreading More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. I laughed out loud on several occasions and also learned about the human body! Funny, I don' t remember too many chuckles in my science classes. Perhaps my science teachers should have read this book!