Saturday, May 10, 2008

Yep, It's About What You Think It's About!

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?)

Another thing I love about Mary Roach is that she’s apparently willing to go anywhere to seek out knowledge and report back to the armchair scientists who can’t afford to go and wouldn’t be caught dead asking such questions. (And that’s one of the reasons I like Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs.)

For this book, Mary Roach interviewed dozens of people, examined dozens of secret documents, took a tour of a pig farm and watched sows get artificially inseminated, first hand (by hand!), and even enticed her own husband into having sex while being subjected to an MRI. I have to admit, that after seeing Roach in action – forgive me – I can’t help but believe that has to be one of the most interesting marriages in the world. I love my wife, but I’m not crawling up onto an MRI table to be watched by scientists for anybody.

Roach goes on to explore several other reconstructive surgery avenues physicians and surgeons have pursued over the year. Just when you think she can’t top the last chapter, all you have to do is turn the page.

If you haven’t discovered Mary Roach, if you think reading Masters and Johnson’s Human Sexual Response has made you an expert in the field, pick up Bonk and become truly educated and amazed. Her chapter on Master and Johns, and their peers, casts that research in a totally different light and I found myself alternately appalled and amused.

The science field has a new champion ready to educate and entertain the masses, and her name is Mary Roach. I can’t wait to see where she’s going next.

No comments: