Once upon a time, Dr. Isaac Asimov attempted to explain the world to everybody. When I was growing up, I devoured both his science fiction and his non-fiction, learning a lot about what had already happened in the world, what was happening at the present, and what yet might happen. I enjoyed his non-fiction books and thought he was really good at explaining science to the layman.
But these days my heart belongs to Mary Roach! I will never stray. She’s only written three books, but she’s already captured every inquisitive bone and impulse in my body. She’s written articles for Reader’s Digest and National Geographic and her curiosity and propensity for knowledge and instruction seem inexhaustible.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers revealed what happened to a body after death. Granted, some stuff maybe I wasn’t too thrilled about learning -- at first -- but Roach took out (most) of the gross effect and totally turned the exercise into an instructional laughfest filled with history and fantastic errata. And the fascination of the subject, as well as her own passion for it, removed the stomach-churn of the experience
In Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife, Roach brought the same kind of intelligent, informative wit to the study of the afterlife and the existence of souls. I knew people were interested in proving the existence of such one way or the other, but I’d never before known to what lengths scientists (and armchair enthusiasts) had gone.
Now Roach delivers, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, a hardcore -- sorry, couldn’t resist -- look at the mysteries and mismanagement of sex. When I first saw the plain white, almost virginal book cover, I was entranced. Could a book on that subject really be called by that title? I couldn’t help thinking how risqué everyone involved was being.
But I couldn’t expect anything less of Mary Roach. All (or at least more than I’d ever before guessed at) of the secrets of sex are revealed between the covers, so to speak. She details several of the curious minds that probed into the subject, and the test patients that laid themselves bare. (See? Even I can’t approach this subject with a straight face and the occasional ill-conceived giggle and pun.)
I also love history, and Mary Roach makes the most of the study of sex within those parameters as well. She left no rock unturned in her pursuit of this forbidden knowledge that civilization had invented. I knew that the scientists covered regularly in elementary and junior high science classes dug into the field of sex, but I’d never before known exactly to what degree. Nor did I know that some of them might even have murdered patients to gain knowledge. (I mean, how likely is it that a scientist would happen upon the body of a woman who’d died in the throes of orgasm so he could examine her corpse to better understand that function?)