Sunday, August 14, 2016

Grunt by Mary Roach

Or Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

I've never met a bad Mary Roach book and this was no exception. War books, war movies, none of those are my "thing" but since this is Roach I figured it would be funny and informative and not so much with the horrors of war....all that was true, until the last chapter.

I listened to this in audiobook format so I can't go back and get chapter titles and this all has to come from memory (I should really write things down when I listen to audiobooks) but essentially Roach delves into the science of soldiers at war. But she takes the approach that others don't normally take such as: Is diarrhea a threat to national security? Turns out, yes. It's a huge problem for soldiers in other countries and it's actually not something I would have even thought about. There are departments dedicated to research of diarrhea just to help keep the soldiers healthy.

Roach researched hearing loss - another big problem with soldiers as well as uniforms and how to protect soldiers from IEDs that explode under vehicles. Again, it turns out that those injuries are unique and that lead to Roach researching penis reconstruction and how surgeons at Walter Reed hospital are doing everything they can to put soldiers back together. An interesting and sad side note, when Roach asked about women and their reproductive organs during IED explosions, it was pointed out that if the damage reached the ovaries, then the soldier was dead.

We delved into flies and research on maggot debridement as well as heat exertion and life on a submarine (think severe sleep deprivation). All of the chapters had Roach's trademark wry humor ("Brian Williams loved caffeinated meat.....or did he?"). The last chapter was somber and serious. Roach went to a morgue where soldiers are taken in order to meet with physicians who are doing their best to understand how the deaths happened and what can be learned to prevent future deaths. Something as simple as a tourniquet not being placed right is a difference between life or death and medics in the field are constantly briefed on what went right and what went wrong. Roach was clearly taken with the images of dead soldiers and, honestly, that chapter was hardest to listen to.

I hate war, I hate the thought that all of this is needed because we have to be at war. I hate what the men and women of the military have to endure to do their job. But I'm very happy they are brave enough to do it and I thank them for that.

Two good interviews with Mary Roach can be found:

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