Where to start?
This was the book chosen (by popular vote) as The Flat Book Society's first official read. Opinions seem to be firmly split down the middle, and while possibly an inauspicious start to our fledgling club, it definitely generated a lot of discussion.
My personal feelings about the book started off complicated: this is not the book I signed up for. I was hoping for an accessible but scientific look at the human digestive process from start to finish, looking at each step of the process in relative detail. I think a lot of us thought that was the book we were getting.
Gulp is not that book.
At first this was disappointing - it still is in the sense of the curiosity unfulfilled - but as I continued reading, and adjusted my expectations once it became obvious I was not going to get the book I expected, I ended up enjoying it a lot.
Anyone who has ever read Judith Stone's columns in Discover magazine (a very long time ago) will know what to expect from Gulp (some of them were published in a book called Light Elements: Essays in Science from Gravity to Levity). Mary Roach is Judith Stone's successor, writing about the science that either seems trivial to most people, or the science no one wants to talk about. Obviously, Gulp is the latter.
This is an overview of digestion in general; not just human, although that is the primary focus. Roach looks at it from both an anthropological view, discussing the effects our social views and taboos about digestion have on everything from the food we eat, to the medical care we receive, as well as the scientific as she interviews scientists, looks at case histories and discuses current research.
Think of Gulp as an introduction; an audit (in the US English sense of the word), of the vast science of gastroenterology, written with a whole lot of humor. Roach never shies away from a joke, a double entendre, or a bit of lighthearted but vulgar fun. She never stoops to locker room level humour and she never does it at the expense of accuracy, but you can tell she's had a good time writing this book. She'd definitely be someone I'd enjoy meeting, although probably not at any social event including food.
If that's the kind of book that appeals to you, definitely check this out; it will be informative and entertaining. If you're hoping for a more focused look at the intricacies of eating and digestion, pass this one on by; it will definitely disappoint.