A.J. Jacobs has done it again: He has written another fascinating memoir in which he explored a part of his life and, at the same, a societal issue, in this case, healthy living. In past books he has explored intelligence, religion, and science and now, with Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, he has looked at how to improve one’s health, including investigating contrasting claims about many body parts and ailments.
Just when I think he is running out of experiments in which to involve himself Jacobs comes up with another one. And the amazing part is he not only does so, but he manages to make it interesting and inviting not to mention engaging.
A.J. first came to my notice — and we started the habit of doing an interview here for each book — with his book The Know-It-All. At the time I raved, as a preface to our interview: “Reading The Know-It-All was one of the most enjoyable literary experiences I have had in the past two years.”
Jacobs challenged himself to read the multi-volume Encyclopedia Britannica from start to finish. I found myself cheering him on, getting more involved in the story the further he got into the alphabet.
He followed that book up with what I now consider my personal favorite of his books, The Year of Living Biblically. As he explained in our interview on that book his goal was to follow as many of the rules in The Bible as possible but he had to make some alterations (no actual stonings, for example). He wrote up the results of that project.
Next up was was a book, The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, collecting a bunch of different experiments, from out-sourcing parts of his life to others (he paid a woman in India to take care of arguing with his wife) to trying out the dangerous idea of radical honesty (where you say what you think even when you know that it may get you in trouble). While parts were fun, and we had another enjoyable interview, it was not his best book.
That brings us to his new book, which is one of his best, being both entertaining and educational as we discuss in the interview that follows. Each chapter is about another part of the body and he regularly updates where he is at with various health-related projects and goals.
In the book’s introduction he explains why he chose to do this project. He had a near-death experience (severe pneumonia) — after years of ignoring his wife’s pleas to have a more healthy lifestyle — and, he writes, “And then I found myself in the hospital gasping for air. And so, right about when the nurse came into my room bearing a pill the size of my middle toe, I made a pledge: If I make it out alive, my next project will be about revamping my body.” He goes on to explain that he has turned past “projects” into books.
Now that he has done projects on his mind (The Know-It-All), his faith (though he writes, “I’m Jewish, but I’m Jewish in the way that the Olive Garden is Italian”), “which brings me to the final quest, the last leg of the bar stool: Remake my body.
“As with my other adventures, this one is fueled, in good part, by ignorance. I know astoundingly little about my own body. I know the small intestine comes before the large intestine. I know the heart is the size of two fists and that it has four chambers. But the Krebs cycle? The thymus? Presumably I read about them in the encyclopedia, but they are not in the two percent I retained.