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In a previous post, I said that AJ Jacobs was my favorite author to suggest when someone wanted a book that was smart and fun. That’s certainly true, but it’s not the whole truth. There is still another author I love to recommend for the exact same reason: Mary Roach.

Mary Roach is really fun! And irreverent. And sometimes even a little bit gross. But, I love her quirky humor, her wide array of interests, and how she manages to take topics that I wouldn’t normally want to read about (war, death, digestion) and make them absolutely fascinating!

Where to start? Well, I suggest starting where I started, with a little book about death: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Death is not an appealing topic. It’s sad at best and gross at worst. But, honestly, it was really interesting to learn about what happens to our bodies when we die. How does a body decompose? What are all the ways that your donated corpse can contribute to science? As morbid as it sounds, this book will actually make you laugh–and you’ll definitely have a hard time putting it down!

Military history is a fascinating area of study. But, I never really thought about reading it myself. So, when Grunt: the Curious Science of Humans at War came up as a suggested title for my book club, I was not exactly thrilled. But, oh my goodness! It was such a fun book! And you’ll learn about a lot of things you’d never have thought to ask– military clothing designs, shark repellent, stink-bombs, maggots, submarines…. Whether you like to read about warfare and military campaigns or not, you should definitely give this a try. You’re sure to find something highly entertaining!

In Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Roach approaches death from a different angle. While Stiff asks about what happens to the body, Spook asks about the soul. Here, we’ll explore a whole host of interesting queries, including (but not limited to) reincarnation, ghosts, and near-death experiences. Does the soul have mass? What is ectoplasm? Can we really communicate with the dead? You’ll have to read to find out!

Eating is so much a part of our daily routine that we hardly ever think about it. But, what exactly happens to that apple or bite of pizza once it enters your mouth? In Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach addresses a collection of interesting and (sometimes really gross!) topics. From chewing to stomach acids, farting and bodily waste, this is not a book for the faint of heart (or weak of stomach). But, if you’re interested in learning more about our bodily processes, then you should definitely give this one a try.

Space exploration sounds really fun in theory, but there are so many factors that many of us never even consider. What happens to your body when you’ve been in zero gravity for a year? What if you throw up in your helmet on a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour? Come explore the less-talked about aspects of space exploration through Roach’s comedic lens in Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.


I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.