The Body: A Guide for Occupants

This was the first book I read in 2020. Well actually, I started reading in the last few days of 2019. It was a coincidence, the way I came across this book with a seemingly dry title. I was browsing through book reviews of 2019 in the Guardian and the Financial Times. Then this one was among those featured in the FT’s article. Even though Bill Bryson was a chancellor at my university and we named the university library after him, I failed to finish a couple of his books many years ago. So I was debating with myself whether to give this one a go. After a few glances at the sample of the book, my Kindle started downloading.

The book talks about each part of our body pretty much in laymen’s words yet backed up by researches and scientific data. Bryson begins the book from the very basic then works his way in from the outside to the microbes that live in our bodies. The chapters are adorned with fascinating facts that you can definitely relate to. Trust me, more than 70% of which are the ones you learn here for the first time. Here is an example:

“Children do much better with extreme cold than with extreme heat. Because their sweat glands aren’t fully developed, they don’t sweat freely as adults do. That is in large part why so many of them die so swiftly when left in cars in warm weather.”

By linking and weaving facts and findings to real-life concerns and incidents, Bryson has successfully steer his book (very far) away from being boring and dry. I’m pretty sure you will find that about half the information in the book confirming popular beliefs while the other half denying the beliefs you have held dear with regards to your body and well-being.

I also enjoyed the stories of scientists / doctors experimenting with new medical cures and medicines. At times (or indeed most of the time), such experiments led to unfortunate loss of lives and I usually had my phone at hand ready to google some chilling surgeries just to add to the goose-bumping experience. But again, given the limited knowledge we knew of our bodies and diseases back then, each experiment brought humanity a step closer to gaining extra years of life expectancy.

So I’d recommend this book. It is fun, easy to read, yet packed with useful stuff (and facts that may be useful for pub quizzes). It is suitable for all ages except some creepy anecdotes that may need parental supervision!

Cover of the book – photo courtesy of