If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body

If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body

In 2014, James Hamblin launched a series of videos for The Atlantic called "If Our Bodies Could Talk." With it, the doctor-turned-journalist established himself as a seriously entertaining authority in the field of health. Now, in illuminating and genuinely funny prose, Hamblin explores the human stories behind health questions that never seem to go away—and which tend to...

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Title:If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body
Author:James Hamblin
Rating:
ISBN:0385540973
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:352 pages

If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body Reviews

  • xq
    Jan 18, 2017

    I already had a giant, mostly-intellectual, crush on James Hamblin going into reading this from following his work in The Atlantic, so my views might be a bit biased, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Great conversational explanations of health issues where you learn new things and everything is explained simply, but you're not falling asleep like you would if this were a textbook. The illustrations liven up the book too. Super non-fiction read!

  • Ashley Boggs
    Feb 02, 2017

    Best word to describe this book? Delightful! Followed by: Insightful! :) I've been watching the Atlantic's series by the same name and have been looking forward to this book. I love Hamblin's dry humor which is so unusual for medical topics! As someone without a medical background, I learned a lot. You can skip around if certain topics don't interest you, but I thought it was all worth a read!

    A few gems I highlighted on my Kindle:

    On dental hygiene: "The images of the plaques are like elaborate

    Best word to describe this book? Delightful! Followed by: Insightful! :) I've been watching the Atlantic's series by the same name and have been looking forward to this book. I love Hamblin's dry humor which is so unusual for medical topics! As someone without a medical background, I learned a lot. You can skip around if certain topics don't interest you, but I thought it was all worth a read!

    A few gems I highlighted on my Kindle:

    On dental hygiene: "The images of the plaques are like elaborate coral reefs rendered on a late-1990s Windows screen saver. They make me never want to brush my teeth again and disrupt their beauty"

    On tracking your skin reactions: "(If there’s one piece of advice I hope to convey in this book, it is to photograph your rashes for future reference. Making them into a Pinterest board is optional.)"

  • Chris Lawson
    Dec 16, 2016

    Why Do I Drool When I Nap And Not When I Sleep?

    Yes, this book really does answer that question--and many others as well.

    I found IF OUR BODIES COULD TALK to be a zany, fun read. The book is organized into distinct questions, such as, "Can I stop wearing my glasses if I eat enough carrots?" (Of course, the answer is, "No.") For each question, the author provides a page or so (sometimes much more) of simple facts, research, and then a summary. For the "glasses" question, the author points out that

    Why Do I Drool When I Nap And Not When I Sleep?

    Yes, this book really does answer that question--and many others as well.

    I found IF OUR BODIES COULD TALK to be a zany, fun read. The book is organized into distinct questions, such as, "Can I stop wearing my glasses if I eat enough carrots?" (Of course, the answer is, "No.") For each question, the author provides a page or so (sometimes much more) of simple facts, research, and then a summary. For the "glasses" question, the author points out that you can "Take all the vitamin A you want, drink all the carrot juice at the club, and it still won’t help your vision."

    The author writes in a fun, easygoing fashion. He explains his curiosity in biological curiosities led him to medical school, where he expected "to come away with some sort of mastery of how we work, and I ended up with only more questions."

    I found it fun to bounce around from topic to topic. I started at the Table of Contents, which lists all the questions, and then just skipped to ones that sounded fun.

    Some of the questions are pretty silly, such as "What if my tongue ring came out and I accidentally swallowed it?" (Answer: Probably nothing, but could lead to perforation.) Other topics are more practical questions, such as, "How much sleep do I actually need?" (Answer: 7 hours.)

    For many topics, the author cites recent studies or research. For the sleep question, we hear about a Finnish 2015 study of over 10,000 people, which found "the optimal sleep duration that correlated with the fewest sick days (absence from work) was 7.63 hours for women and 7.76 hours for men."

    One of the more funnier topics was, "Why do I drool when I nap and not when I sleep?" Of course, I didn't need the answer for MYSELF, but I read the answer just in case a FRIEND needed to know.

    I admit I had never pondered many of these ideas (such as what would happen if I swallowed a septum ring.) Nevertheless, the author provides a new perspective. On the subject of colonoscopies, for instance, he wonders, "This is the best we can do?" Well, I confess I never wondered if a colonoscopy was really that great a thing. But it takes sound primitive, the way the author puts it: "It is customary for all people over a certain age to periodically have a camera on a mechanized tube as long as a person is tall inserted into them to detect and remove irregularities."

    Seeing it that way, I admit--yes it does seem peculiar. I hope that advances are forthcoming.

    All in all, I found IF OUR BODIES COULD TALK to be a fun, relaxing read. I read the book in the spirit in which it is intended--i.e., fun and entertaining. I confess, however, I am still pondering the last question, "What happens to my cloud data when I die?" That one is keeping me up nights. Is the data backed up somehow?

    Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.

    For more views like this, see:

  • Richard Nelson
    Jan 01, 2017

    If you've ever read James Hamblin's articles for the Atlantic, or watched his delightful video series that shares a name with his new book, you won't be surprised to hear that this is both insightful and a great deal of fun. If you haven't...do! Hamblin explores every facet of the human condition, what we actually know about it, what companies pretend to know to sell us stuff, and how we should think about our bodies and our health. It's a quick but meaningful read, well worth picking up.

  • Andrea Fluty
    Jan 08, 2017

    Loved reading this book! Really interesting and informative but funny. It made me want to search his articles in The Atlantic.

  • Marigold
    Feb 22, 2017

    This book was very interesting, humorous, and paradigm-shifting. The question-and-answer format led to tangents in all sorts of realms, from medical money makers to itch scientists to urban legends. The concept of "agnotology," purposeful ignorance, often spread by the media, was worth the read by itself. I was hoping to get an overview of the human body, and I certainly got a lot of truth.

  • Georg
    Jan 20, 2017

    As so often in life, the most interesting bits happen in the end.

  • Case Chun
    Jan 10, 2017

    Hamblin takes a personal narrative to address the topics in this book to make it less of a lecture and more of a conversation (much like his previous works and articles). He highlights important social and political implications beyond the science of the topics, prompting an important and much needed discussion on the idea of autonomy, access to healthcare, human rights, etc. That and he further advances the public engagement and awareness of science, which also is important.

  • Courtney Stoker
    Jan 12, 2017

    Witty, funny, irreverent, important. A must read.

  • Book
    Jan 15, 2017

    If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body by James Hamblin

    “If Our Bodies Could Talk” is a fun and educational pop-science book on how our bodies work. Science writer, web personality and senior editor at the Atlantic magazine, James Hamblin, takes readers on an enjoyable journey of the human body. This entertaining 400-page book includes many questions and answers broken out by the following six categories of body use are: 1. Appearing, 2. Perceiving, 3. Eating,

    If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body by James Hamblin

    “If Our Bodies Could Talk” is a fun and educational pop-science book on how our bodies work. Science writer, web personality and senior editor at the Atlantic magazine, James Hamblin, takes readers on an enjoyable journey of the human body. This entertaining 400-page book includes many questions and answers broken out by the following six categories of body use are: 1. Appearing, 2. Perceiving, 3. Eating, 4. Drinking, 5. Relating, and 6. Enduring.

    Positives:

    1. Enjoyable, inquisitive, well-written science book suited for the masses.

    2. The fascinating topic of how our bodies work.

    3. The tone of this book is fun. The author makes use of questions and answers in an illustrative, childlike-curiosity manner to drive the narrative.

    4. It’s a reason-based book. It defends the best of our current knowledge. “So this book is a practical approach to understanding our bodies, predicated on the idea that memorizing facts is less important than developing insight.”

    5. It does a very good of defining terms so it can be used as a quick reference. “Health in a way at once obvious and radical: “A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

    6. The book is full of interesting facts that complement the interesting narrative. “The average person has about six pounds of skin.”

    7. The book is accessible to all levels but there are some unintended philosophical gold nuggets. “Max Factor’s approach is a textbook example of the sales tactic that is still so successful in selling body-improving products: convince people that there is a deficit in some concrete way, and then sell the antidote.” Bonus, “We can’t always choose our mirrors, but we can choose the kind of mirrors we will be—a kind of mirror, or a malevolent mirror, or anything in between.”

    8. This book is anything but boring, you are bound to find amusing tidbits. “Tattoos are about defiance and individuality, but also resignation.” Bonus, “Blue-eyed women three hundred years ago were considered witches and burned at the stake.”

    9. Historical tidbits as well. “Among the dire conditions that led to the 1965 riots was lack of access to health care. It has become a common refrain in public health that a person’s zip code is a better predictor of their health than their genetic code.”

    10. The science behind itching. “What we know is itch is not simply neuropathic, it’s not simply immunologic, and it’s not simply in the epithelial barrier, but probably a combination of all these.”

    11. All those childlike questions, you asked and wondered but never followed up to answer why. “Why do stomachs rumble? The only way they could temporarily silence the borborygmi, they discovered, was by pressing on her left hypochondrium—the upper abdomen just below the ribs (hypo = below, chondrium = cartilage). This, incidentally, is where the term hypochondria comes from, as it was once believed that worry arose in the abdomen.”

    12. The truth about vitamins. “Unlike smoking less or exercising more, forgoing multivitamins is a health recommendation that involves no effort.”

    13. An interesting look at gluten. “It happened when we believed that cholera was spread through the air, and when we believed beriberi was caused by a toxin in rice, and it seems to be happening now with gluten.”

    14. Important topics like conflict of interest as it pertains to our health. “Conflicts of interest exist whenever enormous industries stand to gain by finding evidence in support of their product.”

    15. Do you need eight glasses of water a day? Find out.

    16. Discoveries that have changed the world of medicine. “Crane’s discovery of the sodium-glucose transport pump, a tiny gateway into the cells of our guts, revolutionized hydration. A 1978 editorial in The Lancet would call this “potentially the most important medical advance this century.””

    17. Hot-button topics like sex and gender issues. “One percent of the world’s population is estimated to be not male or female but intersex.”

    18. A look at gene therapy.

    19. Heart disease. “The solutions to prevent it are before us, but instead we have created a system predicated on treating the condition—shocking and burning people’s hearts to temporarily restore normalcy, at great cost and risk, most often without addressing the fundamental causes.”

    20. Notes and bibliography included.

    Negatives:

    1. This book is very basic; it’s intended for the masses so don’t expect scientific depth.

    2. I would have included a chapter on fake science, homeopathy, comes to mind.

    3. I would have added more tables and graphs to complement the excellent material.

    In summary, this book is a treat to read; it educates while piquing our curiosity throughout. Hamblin does a wonderful job of selecting wide and diverse topics regarding our human bodies and provides useful information. It lacks scientific depth and I would have dedicated a chapter on pseudoscience (he does debunk fake science here and there). The book deserves five starts because it is practical and fun to read. I highly recommend it!

    Further suggestions: “The Gene: An Intimate History” and “The Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, “The Universe Within: The Deep History of the Human Body” and “Your Inner Fish…” by Neil Shubin, “The Story of the Human Body” by Daniel Lieberman, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by Sean B. Carroll, “The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today” by Rob Dunn, and “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan.