Bodily Curiosities: Musings on the Mysteries of Physical Existence

Joseph Epstein in First Things:

I am not altogether incurious, but one entity about which I have over the years felt little curiosity is my own body. Until recently, I could not have told you the function of my, or anyone else’s, pancreas, spleen, or gallbladder. I’d just as soon not have known that I have kidneys, and was less than certain of their exact whereabouts, apart from knowing that they reside somewhere in the region of my lower back. As for my entrails, the yards of intestines winding through my body, the less I knew about them the better, though I have always liked the sound of the word “duodenum.” About the cells and chromosomes, the hormones and microbes crawling and swimming about in my body, let us not speak.

For better and worse, these deficiencies in my knowledge have been addressed by a splendid book by Bill Bryson called The Body: A Guide for Occupants. The book is an account of human parts, inside and out, and what is known and still unknown about them. It catalogues the diseases and mechanical failures to which flesh is heir; establishes a pantheon of heroic medical researchers and a rogues’ gallery of quacks; sets out some of the differences between humans and other mammals and between the male and female of our own species—and does all this in a ­fluent, often amusing, never dull manner. The point of view is ironical yet suffused with awed appreciation for that endlessly complex machine, the human body.

More here.