In spite of The Great Lockdown, it has taken me several days to finish reading "The Body" by Bill Bryson. That is no reflection upon the readability of the writing but upon my own lethargy.
I think I have read every book that Iowa-born Bill Bryson has ever written. Over the years, his preferred genre has been observational travel writing. His dry wit has given me many belly laughs.
This book represents a very different departure. In 386 pages Mr Bryson takes us on a well-researched tour of the human body. He possesses no medical qualifications but what he does possess is an enquiring mind and a rare ability to convey challenging information in an accessible manner. He is a gifted communicator - at least when employing the written word.
The chapters of "The Body" are all of manageable length. You never feel overwhelmed by them but Mr Bryson packs a lot of information in. There are twenty three chapters in total with titles that range from "Microbial You" and "The Guts" to "The Immune System" and "Nerves and Pain". Incidentally, beyond the 386 pages of text there are a further fifty pages of explanatory notes, an extensive bibliography and index.
Most of us travel around in our bodies without knowing a great deal about them. Even doctors and biologists tend to specialise in particular aspects of the body and may be quite ignorant about other aspects. There is so much to know and in a sense Bill Bryson's book is just the tip of an iceberg of body knowledge.
The very last chapter is called "The End" - considering, as you might imagine, what happens when life leaves the human body. And that inquisitive chapter ends like this:-
For those who choose to be buried, decomposition in a sealed coffin takes a long time - between five and forty years, according to one estimate, and that's only for those who are not embalmed. The average grave is visited only for about fifteen years, so most of us take a lot longer to vanish from the Earth than from others' memories. A century ago only about one person in a hundred was cremated, but today three-quarters of Britons and 40 per cent of Americans are. If you are cremated, your ashes will weigh about five pounds (two kilos).
And that's you gone. But it was good while it lasted, wasn't it?