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Grunt : the curious science of humans at war

Having read Mary Roach's other books, all I wanted to write about this recent book is a two-sentence review: Mary Roach has a new book! Go read it!!. But several things were pointed out to me: I was abusing the exclamation mark, and not everyone has read Mary Roach.

Mary Roach is a science writer. She wrote Gulp (about digestion), Stiff (about dead bodies), Bonk (about sex), Spook (about scientific investigations into the afterlife) and Packing for Mars (because not every book can have a one-word title). Read them all. Reading a book by Mary Roach is a little like being on a field trip to a great museum. While a diligent tour guide leads you from exhibit to exhibit, a troublemaker, from the back of your group, raises their hand and starts asking the most embarrassing, silliest, and insightful questions ever: some are about physics, some are about farts. The tour guide turns red and stutters while the rest of the group dissolves into giggles. In this scenario, Mary Roach is both the tour guide and the troublemaker.

Let her take you on a field trip through the science of war with her new book: Grunt: the curious science of humans at war. This is a book about the science of feeding, clothing, and caring for soldiers. There’s a chapter about all the different methods military organizations use to deal with diarrhea. There’s a chapter on the history of shark repellent. There’s a chapter about what it’s like to be in a sinking submarine. This is a book about the things that soldiers carry, and the things that carry them.

According to Grunt, soldiers in Afghanistan carry 30 pounds of gear, which includes armor and weapons for two-day missions. And every time they face a problem scientists try to fix it with more gear. Unclean water? How about a water filtration system. Hungry? Try these MREs (Meals ready to eat). Each piece of equipment adds up: medical equipment, food, armor, uniform. Each piece has a story.

Speaking of uniforms, my favorite part of Grunt had to be when Roach interviewed a Navy Commander about the Navy uniform. Camouflage is a very popular choice for uniforms right now. It is both fashionable and helps the wearer blend into their surroundings. The Navy’s current working uniform is a blue camouflage print. Mary Roach asked this Navy Commander about the rationale behind that. He looked down at his trousers and sighed, “That’s so no one can see you if you fall overboard.”