Grunt by Mary Roach

gruntGrunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders in the same way again.”

I absolutely love Mary Roach’s books and look forward to each new one with eager anticipation.  When I was given the chance to read Grunt early, I nearly singed the keyboard clicking on the “Request” button.  Even so, I was a little hesitant–I didn’t much like her previous book, Gulp, feeling that it was too narrow in its focus–but I am happy to report that my fears were quickly done away with.

Much like Bill Bryson at his geeky best, Roach has the ability to take a subject, find all kinds of disparate facts relating to it, and pull them together into a coherent narrative that draws you in completely.  I think the choice of military science was a great one, because it allowed for both a broad overview (a look at military science in general) as well as specific topics (sleep deprivation as it relates to submarine personnel).  This lets readers keep an eye on the overarching subject while also allowing them to deep dive into specific aspects of that topic.

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys random factoids, this is the book for you.  You’ll learn little tidbits of information that you never would have guessed at–for example, do you know how to do reconstructive surgery on a man’s genitals so that he can still have sex?  You will after you read this book.  But something else becomes clear as you go through the chapters: people in charge of research have to consider every aspect of their chosen field, and often they have to solve problems that most of us wouldn’t even recognize as problems to begin with.  Zippers on uniforms for snipers?… they’ll catch and unzip as a sniper crawls into position.  That’s just one of the surprising considerations you’ll find here.

With every book that Roach writes, I gain a new appreciation for science, and also for the scientists who have to think so far outside of the box that they might as well be on another planet.  Grunt is an excellent book to get to know Roach and her writing style, and I recommend it highly.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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