Gut by Giulia Enders is an excellent, readable book, shedding light on one of the most underrated parts of our body.
The book is divided into three broad sections: first, the physiology from the mouth to the bum (though it actually starts at the bum, since that’s the bit that gets our juvenile attention, then doubles back to the other end); next, anomalies in the system and how it interacts with other bits of us; and finally, the micro-organisms that live with(in) us, where they come from and how we should treat them.
For obvious, self-obsessed reasons, I found the section on the interactions between the gut and the brain (and thus mental health) particularly interesting but wished the section on vomiting had included a section on people who don’t/can’t vomit. I also enjoyed the section of helicobacter pylori – why it’s not all bad – and was inspired to be generally a bit nicer to my microbiome in the future. Over the years, for one reason or another, I’ve picked up a fair bit of the information covered in the book but it was still useful to read it all as a single, integrated narrative.
The style of the book is as noteworthy as the content: it’s written in a friendly, fun manner with cute little pen drawings to illustrate the action of villi or how microbacteria can be caught in the air using iodine crystals. As well as the actual illustrations, Enders illuminates everything with analogies – my favourite perhaps being the parallel between the reason why it’s hard to poo when sat up straight and getting grounded for squirting a sibling in the face with a garden hose. Very occasionally – two or three times at most – these get in the way (they’re either cumbersome or actually confuse the issue) but mostly they serve a useful purpose.
An almost overly confident tone is used throughout, treating everything that isn’t explicitly qualified as solid fact. A few times, I felt that this tone was exploited to present debatable theories as gospel — especially in the chattier bits, she would allude to/reference the common prevailing opinion on the subject for the sake of a joke or neat closing line, when the new research on the subject presents a muddier or contrary position. There is a lengthy reference list at the back of the book but nothing is cited/footnoted directly — and this made it feel like a lighter, less substantiated book than it really is. (I realise this is a common problem with pop science books.)
Overall though, it’s a great book – interesting, informative and a genuine pleasure to read. I’d recommend it to anyone with a gut or the desire to relay the specific texture of their poo.