A little non-fiction this time, in the shape of The Gut by Giulia Enders.
It’s quite surprising really how taboo talking about the human digestive system and its by-products still are. Think about another taboo topic, sex, which has been discussed and shown in public from every possible angle for at least the past 20 years, and has in this process practically lost all of its taboo status. You might discuss your bedroom activities with your girlfriends, but the consistency of your poop? Much more unlikely.
Enders is, without a doubt, doing her part in stripping these topics off the air of secrecy and embarrassment that currently surrounds them. In The Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ (Scribe), first published in German in 2014 and in translation in 2015, Enders succeeds in talking about our digestive system in a way that is engaging and fun, but at the same time maintains a sound scientific backing. The first two sections of the book cover the digestive process from the moment food enters out mouth to the moment it exits, transformed into feces. The third part deal with the little helpers and adversaries that colonise the entire digestive systems, the millions upon millions of microbes, and the effect their workings have on us from protecting us from allergies to giving us a food poisoning.
Whilst reading this book I realised how pitiful my knowledge of the system that works inside me 24/7 for my benefit has been. Did you for example know that while all other nutrients are, once the bowel has cut them into tiny bits and ingested them, first transported to the liver for detoxifying, but fat is such a precious substance for or bodies that it’s taken directly to the heart by the lymphatic system? Or that the large intestine isn’t actually bulbous as it’s portrayed—it’s smooth, but the muscle lining the intestine occasionally moves the chyme (partly digested food) onward by contracting, giving it a bumpy appearance? Or that the rumbling you hear a few hours after your previous meal isn’t actually a sign of hunger, but of the small intestine cleaning itself? Fascinating stuff.
Enders writes very well, and explains complex processes using metaphors and little stories that make a potentially dry topic much more human. From what I can tell, David Shaw‘s translation is also a good one—he has decided to retain references to German culture and geography, but they should be quite easy to get. A special mention goes to the great illustrations by Jill Enders, Giulia’s sister.
The Gut elsewhere
Giulia Enders (b. 1990) is a German writer and scientist. She is studying for a PhD in gastroenterology at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.