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Book Review: Your Body: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald

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In the age of high-tech gadgets, nothing is more astonishing than the human body. Here in Your Body: The Missing Manual, author Matthew MacDonald manages to compile a description of how we go about living, as we grow, shed, do, and die, and he covers the human anatomy in less than 300 colorful pages.

Although the book is great fun to read, take it seriously as a guide to fine-tuning your body for a long and healthy life.

Reading Your Body is like looking in a fun-house mirror. The author is a science and technology writer, clearly comfortable with explaining complex subjects in a light-hearted way, from avoiding disease to following a breakfast meal from the mouth to the porcelain bowl.

Filled with useful facts, and devoid of the dry medical or scientific explanations, you’ll learn great stuff like how shampoo works on your hair, and the functions of skin. On the subject of wrinkles, MacDonald has two suggestions:

  • Choose the right parents
  • Don’t use your face.

Then, on the serious side he points out the damage done to skin by smoking and too much exposure to the sun.

Our skin is a “washable, stretchable, self-repairing fabric that lasts a lifetime with minimal care. Removed and laid flat, your skin occupies about 20 sq. feet of space – enough to cover the top of a twin-size bed and make it the surprise winner of the “largest organ in your body” award.”

When you read the "Your Heart" chapter, you’ll get off the couch and take your circulatory system for a walk. Colorful descriptions of the abilities and mechanics of a heartbeat make you appreciate the pump and motivate you to keep it in good shape.

“A 50-year old man who doesn’t smoke or have diabetes and who keeps his cholesterol and blood pressure in the recommended range," the author notes, "has just a 5-percent chance of a serious heart event over the next half-century. But if he violates any one of these conditions, his chances rise tenfold, hitting 50 percent.” As MacDonald adds, most 50-year-olds fall into that second category, laying the groundwork for the "Big One."

Your Body has chapters on muscles and healthy bones, with extensive exercise information for maintaining core strength, good posture, and healthy bones.

Your Body includes a long discussion on cancer, starting right where it occurs: in the cellular errors that can become an unstoppable cancer cell.

Entertaining anecdotes include MacDonald’s research on the use of resilient intestinal tissue of animals in some food-making, and in the stringed instruments craftsmen made for centuries, until silk, nylon and steel became more common. Oh, and condoms, which were originally made of sheep intestines.

As always with O’Reilly Media, the book is on the cutting edge, with high-quality production, color, and online access to all web links and updates.

Celebrate your body and enjoy this tour through the factory.

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About Helen Gallagher