national Arts Festival Banner

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


(This is Bill Bryson at his best. Do not miss it. Review by Keith Millar)

Bill Bryson is probably best known as a travel writer. He has produced a number of excellent and bestselling publications in this genre. All are written with his trademark sense of humour and the occasional acerbic outburst at any bureaucratic nonsense or other iniquities he may come across during his travels.

Bryson’s most unique talent, however, is his ability to take complex subjects and explain them in basic and simple terms that make them not only understandable but intriguing and interesting to the layman.

The best example of this, up to now, is his bestselling award-winning book A Short History of Nearly Everything. This is an absorbing exploration of the universe and the science that makes it all tick. The subject matter is complicated and normally many of us may find the science difficult to grasp and even boring. However, Bryson is able to present it all in a way which renders it comprehensible and even enjoyable.

Following on with this genre, Bryson has now produced a fascinating and highly readable tome entitled, unpretentiously, The Body, with a delightful subtitle of A Guide for The Occupants.

Bryson takes the occupants of the amazing contraptions that is us on a magical and very comprehensive tour of the human body we occupy.

He covers every aspect of the body, from top to toe and all the parts in-between, and discusses how it all functions as well as its remarkable ability to heal itself and the ways it can fail.

There is also plenty of information on the pioneers of medical science and the treatments they have developed - from the beginnings, when many of their procedures were rather barbaric and carried out without the benefit of anaesthetic, up until today where the medical care available to us is at the extraordinary levels that it is.

Bryson is not a medical practitioner. But the many pages of references he lists are testimony to the level of his research he put in to produce this book. Interestingly, one of the people he personally acknowledges is his own son, David, who is a medical specialist.

Despite the seriousness of the subject, the book is written with Bryson’s usual wit and light-heartedness. He inspires wonder and awe at the extraordinary and miraculous machines that we are as human beings. He has created a user manual which is not only very readable but also educational, fascinating, and useful.

I found the book to be a real page turner and difficult to put down once I had started it. This is Bill Bryson at his best. Do not miss it.

The Body is published by Transworld Publishers (part of the Penguin Random House group). The ISBN is 9780857522405 and the recommended retail price is R320. – Keith Millar