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Mary Roach's Curiosities

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

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Best-selling author Mary Roach explores the science of keeping human beings intact, awake, sane, uninfected, and uninfested in the bizarre and extreme circumstances of war. Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them.

Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds.

At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders in the same way again.

285 pages, Hardcover

First published June 7, 2016

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About the author

Mary Roach

28 books11.4k followers
Mary Roach is a science author who specializes in the bizarre and offbeat; with a body of work ranging from deep-dives on the history of human cadavers to the science of the human anatomy during warfare.

Mary Roach is the author of the New York Times bestsellers STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; GULP: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, PACKING FOR MARS: The Curious Science of Life in the Void; BONK: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex; and GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War.

Mary has written for National Geographic, Wired, Discover, New Scientist, the Journal of Clinical Anatomy, and Outside, among others. She serves as a member of the Mars Institute's Advisory Board and the Usage Panel of American Heritage Dictionary. Her 2009 TED talk made the organization's 2011 Twenty Most-Watched To Date list. She was the guest editor of the 2011 Best American Science and Nature Writing, a finalist for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize, and a winner of the American Engineering Societies' Engineering Journalism Award, in a category for which, let's be honest, she was the sole entrant.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,386 reviews
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
769 reviews3,505 followers
November 7, 2021
As the saying goes, war is the father of all things and human ingenuity, progress, technological development, and higher civilization. If humans would be as peaceful as bonobos, we might be happy, but probably much more primitive and less highly technologically developed.

Before something can be applied on the battlefield, it has to be conceived, tested, brainstormed, and here come the occasionally very creative ideas of scientists and engineers that form the main content of this book. As simple as the start of a quick, easy war is, as difficult can it be to keep the machinery running and there are so many aspects that have to be considered one would never think of. Be it on the battlefield, with the equipment or healing in the worst case of long-term damage.

Roach visits each possible location, giving a humorous overview of the optimization of killing techniques and the people behind them, shows the biggest dangers for soldiers and how the military tries to help the veterans. One gets a feeling of how it must be to serve under the danger of one's own life and how huge the motivation and optimism of the scientists, doctors, and engineers are, that help to enable the invalid and amputated veterans to live better lives.

For some readers, the only problem with the funny and gritty writing style with much focus on gore, blood, and disgust, which was ok in all her other works and is kind of her trademark to get as explicit and detailed as possible, might be that they think that the topic should have been dealt with a bit more restraint and avoiding too much constructed humor. That´s highly subjective, but without that, it could have been another and probably not so appropriate reading experience.

It could be that sarcasm, taking nothing serious anymore, and a healthy portion of gallows humor are one of the few remaining options for soldiers to stay sane and mentally stable in the madness of war and battle and that Roach does an amazing job my capturing that mentality for all of those lucky enough to have never risked their lives for their country.

A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books:
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
November 2, 2021
The Chicken gun has a sixty foot barrel, putting it solidly in the class of an artillery piece. While a four pound chicken hurtling in excess of 400 miles per hour is a lethal projectile…
OK, stop right there. Mary Roach’s latest venture into odd science begins with a notion that would likely raise the hackles and maybe the hopes of Rocky the Rhode Island Red of the film Chicken Run.


But Rocky would be better off sticking with the usual modes of transportation for the aeronautically challenged. These are no Iron Man chickens. The poultry the Army is using for its much-enlarged version of birdshot have already been relieved of their pluck, among other things. They are standing in for the many avian perils that endanger military pilots, and have been aimed at test planes. Roach does not report whether the cannon issued a squawk along with the boom when it let the feathers fly.

This is what happens when you turn Mary Roach, author of such gleeful romps as Bonk (a long, hard look at sex), Stiff (yes, dealing with late residents, and nothing to do with that other book), Spook (looking into where they might have gone), Packing for Mars (the joys and bodily fluids of space travel), and Gulp (a journey through the alimentary canal even Captain Willard may have taken a pass on), loose on the US military. She is not interested in the best ways to harm the enemy, but in the collateral science that accompanies the military’s deadly missions. Things like dealing with noise, heat, sharks, submarine rescue, keeping coyotes away from the field test cadavers, the joys of flies and maggots, and then it gets back to familiar MR turf, keeping up with the latest science on letting go. Roach spends a lot of time at a military test location, Camp Lemonnier. I picture it being devoured by swarms of tiny, chainsaw-toothed Liz Lemons.

First, the more serious. Safety in vehicles, a favorite target for IEDs, is a major concern for the military. Roach looks at vehicles designed to minimize potential blast damage, not just to the vehicle but to its occupants. She checks out TCAPS, (Tactical Communication and Protective System) an advanced audio communications tool used primarily by Special Forces. It amplifies quiet sound and dampens loud noise.

She provides a look at progress in reconstructing, even transplanting, sex organs damaged or lost by gunfire or explosives. She works up a sweat explaining perspiration.
Until this trip, I thought of sweat as a sort of self-generated dip in the lake. But sweat isn’t cool. It’s warm as blood. It essentially is blood. Sweat comes from plasma, the watery, colorless portion of blood. (A dip in the lake cools by conduction: contact with something colder. Highly effective but not always practical.) Sweat cools by evaporation: offloading your heat into the air. Like this: when you start to overheat, vessels in your skin dilate, encouraging blood to migrate there. From the capillaries of the skin, the hot plasma is offloaded through sweat glands—2.4 million or so—onto the surface of the body to evaporate. Evaporation carries heat away from the body, in the form of water vapor.
I envision sweat vampires lurking in locker rooms. Roach explains how heat illness works. It ain’t pretty. Blast Boxers are examined, although not while…you know, they are in use. Body armor too. Turns out you would need so many layers of protection to fend off IEDs that you would be too weighted down to walk. Flame resistance in fabric is considered as well as the temperature at which human flesh burns. You will learn where the term “bite the bullet” came from and what it was really intended to accomplish. Also considered are the relative benefits of going shirtless vs shirted on a hot day, the uses of kitty litter in theater, and why the military is so insistent on personnel being clean-shaven. You will learn about the uses and hazards of filth flies and, yes, maggots. “Maggot!” as a drill sergeant (or wifely) form of address may sting a bit less after you gain a new respect for little white squigglers in these pages.

Thanks, Sarge - USMC photo by Sgt. Reece Lodder

Aircraft design does not stop at maximizing lift, and getting the most speed and endurance per unit of fuel. There are more human concerns that need to be addressed, particularly when the shit hits the …everything.
On a long sortie out of Diego Garcia island, the only crew member capable of operating the plane’s defensive equipment abruptly left his post to use the chemical toilet—while flying over Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. On the return flight, a faulty seal combined with the pressure differential between the toilets tiered chambers causing the contents to spew into the crew cabin. “Be assured,” he deadpanned, “this blue-brown precipitation affected the navigator’s ability to concentrate on his duties.”
It would probably have been simpler had the affected crew member been the bombardier. But one must respect it when latrine humor hooks up with an actual latrine. Despite the humorous aspect, the military has to cope with thousands of personnel in foreign places, and the response to the new locale can often be gastrointestinal. What if, say, Seal Team Six, were en route to take out Osama Bin Laden and was thwarted because one or more of the seals had sprung a leak. Zero Dark Dirty? This is what Roach does, entertains us with the silliness aspect, the gross aspect, while also communicating important factual material. I guess this might be seen as a sort of Mary Poppins-ish spoon-full-of-sugar (or something) technique, using gross humor to teach us all something we didn’t know, although her evident glee at the scatological might make Roach more of a Mary Poopins.

Mary Roach - from electronpencil.com – probably the face she has on when she writes

There is much more in the book. As one has come to expect in Roach’s writing a lot of it is downright hilarious. While stopping short of staring at goats, one of the perhaps less legendary escapades of international conflict Roach sniffed out occurred when WWII allies wanted to make life miserable for Japanese officers, and so developed a particularly pungent substance that Chinese resistance fighters could surreptitiously spray on the invaders, causing them, it was expected, extreme social shame. The super secret code name for this project was…wait for it…”Who, Me?” “Million dollar Nose” man Ernest Crocker, of the chemical engineering company Arthur D. Little, was charged with developing the unlovely scent.
Samples were prepared and delivered to the NRDC [National Research Defense Committee] in two formats: a more intense “paste-form stink,” for smearing, and a liquid stink in a squirtable two ounce lead tube. Crocker assured his clients that the latter would render a target “highly objectionable for not less than two hours at 70 F.” He promised nothing short of “complete ostracism,” concluding his report with a tagline surely unique in the annals of marketing: “as lastingly disagreeable as a product of this kind can be.”
People react very differently to the same scent. A project looking for a universally repulsive fragrance concluded that the closest they could find was the “US Government Standard Bathroom Malodor.” Nothing is universal, though. One hardy soul found it to be a “wearable” scent, which makes one wonder just how challenging it must be to settle in for a number two in his loo.
None of [researcher Pam] Dalton’s other bottled vilenesses approached a workable criterion of universality. Sewage Odor was no good at all. Fourteen percent of Hispanic subjects described it as an odor that would make them feel good. Around 20 percent of Caucasians, Asians, and black South Africans thought it smelled edible. Vomit Odor made a similarly poor showing, with 27 percent of Xhosa subjects describing it as a feel-good smell and 3 percent of Caucasians being willing to wear it as a scent.
Which explains a lot about the olfactory ambience inside the rush hour F train.

This book includes sage advice on the inadvisability of drinking one’s own urine. Thanks, but I think I’ll have the iced tea instead. This is presumably not intended for those involved in extreme water sports, but they would probably profit from the information as well.

With Grunt, Mary Roach has yet again succeeded in teaching us a lot of things we never suspected, and has done so while leaving us weak from laughter. Here’s another. She also explains why we toss and turn at night in the normal course of events. And yes, we mean those who are sleeping. Sheesh! And one more. She tells us about a product that is literally called “Liquid Ass.” Don’t ask. Don’t smell. If you tell Mary Roach you think her book stinks, it would probably make her day.

I suppose one must at least try to come up with items that are less than exemplary, or that, for one reason or another, do not sit well. Tough to do with Mary Roach books. The only thing, aside from the item noted in the following paragraph, is that the chapters are a bit uneven in their humor content. This is not at all a criticism, but merely observation. It is one thing to get giddy about the pursuit of an olfactory 9th ring of hell or projectile poultry, but when dealing with burn victims and the loss of life and limb that results from IEDs and taking enemy fire, levity does not come so easily. Roach has tempered her approach to tilt away from humor when a more respectful tone is called for. Thus, some chapters will leave you howling, while others will inform your brain without going too close to your funny bone.

I came across only one item in the book that did not pass the smell test. There is a reference to General Dynamics, manufacturer of the IAV (Interim Armored Vehicle) Stryker, in which it is stated that GD owns Chevrolet. General Motors might be alarmed to learn that. Of course the volume I read is an ARE, and one presumes that either a correction is imminent, or GD and GM can be persuaded to arrange a quick deal.

Grunt has the deeply satisfying aroma of a truly illuminating book about some very real, down and dirty issues that confront not just our military, but our species. Roach offers some history on how these challenges have been approached in the past, and fills us in on what is happening now. Many of the problems she describes have significant implications for civilian life as well. The subtitle of Roach’s book is The Curious Science of Humans at War. But it is Mary Roach’s curiosity that is the real jewel here. She always finds fascinating subjects to investigate, and Grunt is no exception. Enjoy and share her merriment at the mess of our reality. It wraps a warm cover around the laser-like intelligence she brings to bear on her chosen material. In the land of popular science writing, Roach is no grunt, but a five star general. Ten-hut!

Publication date – June 7, 2016

Review first posted – 4/15/16

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal and Twitter pages

Mary will be on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on June 6, (I don't think that actually happened) but if you want a taste of what to expect, check out this video of her Daily Show visit with Jon Stewart

Here is a fun piece from the NY Times in which Mary is asked about book she didn't write. Gotta love her last line. : Mary Roach: By the Book

Other Mary Roach books we have enjoyed
-----2021 - Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
-----2013 - Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
-----2010 - Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
-----2006 - Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
-----2004 - Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
March 11, 2017
I don't see why so many people are raving over this book. It's a disjointed series of essays giving the research and state of play of various military concerns. All written, as Mary Roach does, in a very populist way with self-deprecating humour inserted so that we know she's just like one of us and not that bright or deep or out of our league (which she probably is. Mine certainly).

There isn't the depth I would like in such a serious and interesting subject except (of course) about shit. In this case diarrhoea and it's main vector, the filth fly. Mary reallyloves guts and their contents in every book she can fit them into.

The subjects covered that I knew about from other books and documentaries are, sleep deprivation and decompression sickness aka 'the bends'. Subjects I didn't know anything much about and still feel I don't are materials and design of military uniforms and substituting automatic reactions for desired ones on a battlefield. Subjects that there was far too much information on were how to return sexual function to those who unfortunately lost all or most of their dicks. Roach reduced sex to function and satisfaction. That was all a bit squirmy and wince-making. I can see why, after the initial period of support and healing, the marriages break up, it all gets too technical and not enough about love-making. Sad that.

I wrote this below whilst reading the book and am now reading a book on How We'll Live on Mars and kitty lit stuff features in that too. Coincidence or... trending!

Too much diarrhoea.

The US army in Iraq was requesting industrial quantities of kitty lit. Turns out it is the best thing to absorb runny poo and associated overwhelming stink when stuck in a hole performing surveillance on those who might go in for planting an IED or two.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
659 reviews841 followers
April 29, 2022
“I am not, by trade or character, a spotlight operator. I’m the goober with a flashlight, stumbling into corners and crannies, not looking for anything specific but knowing when I’ve found it.”

From Medical Maggots To Stench Soup, 'Grunt' Explores The Science Of Warfare : Shots - Health News : NPR

Roach has been receiving rave reviews for popularizing (what has been called morbid or gross) science for the last number of years. I had her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers on my TBR list when Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War became one of Audible’s Daily Deals. I immediately downloaded Grunt and began listening. I’m not sure how I would have reacted to Roach’s other books, but this one didn’t do it for me. For one, her approach to the subject seemed haphazard. Besides feeling disjointed, there was sometimes not enough depth and sometimes excruciatingly more detail than was needed.

Roach picked an interesting subject so I could have handled that part. It was really the tone that gave me pause. Roach’s banter with experts seemed YA, at times snarky and at other times almost flirty (at least that’s the way it came across to me). I expect that in YA, but not in nonfiction. Unfortunately, I found the approach distracting. So this had some interesting parts, but overall it wasn't for me. 2.75 stars
Profile Image for Matt.
908 reviews28.1k followers
July 3, 2022
“People tend to think of military science as strategy and weapons – fighting, bombing, advancing. All that I leave to the memoir writers and historians. I’m interested in the parts no one makes movies about – not the killing but the keeping alive. Even if what people are being kept alive for is fighting and taking other lives. Let’s not let that get in the way. This book is a salute to the scientists and the surgeons, running along in the wake of combat, lab coats flapping. Building safer tanks, waging war on filth flies. Understanding turkey vultures…”
- Mary Roach, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

Mary Roach is a brand unto herself. Working in a microhistory-adjacent niche, her trademark is to tackle specific subjects such as sex or dead bodies and explore them through the prism of modern science. In doing so, she has created the character of “Mary Roach,” a friendly, hyper-curious freelancer who is willing to confront the most serious issues with wit, irreverence, and a teenage boy’s sense of humor, trafficking heavily in poop and vomit and other bodily evacuations. For her, the more disgusting the topic, the longer she will linger.

Grunt is Roach’s foray into the world of the United States Armed Forces – a milieu with which she is admittedly uncomfortable – in order to discuss the scientific breakthroughs and advances meant to keep soldiers comfortable, alert, and most importantly, alive.

If you are already a fan of Roach’s canon, this one will undoubtedly not disappoint. If you – like me – have never read her before, you should be prepared to meet her on her own terms. In the introduction Roach sets out what to expect: “I am not, by trade or character, a spotlight operator,” she explains. “I’m the goober with a flashlight, stumbling into corners and crannies, not looking for anything specific but knowing when I’ve found it…”

This is, in other words, a grab-bag. From first to last, I found Grunt to be frustratingly disorganized, irritatingly shallow, and entirely idiosyncratic in the pathways it follows, and those it chooses to ignore. At the same time, Roach moves so quickly from one thing to another – a literary version of the arcade classic Frogger – that my low-grade annoyance never reached a boil. Every time I resolved to just set this down, she reengaged my attention.


Roach attempts to touch upon an impressive list of topics. Some are very broad, such as uniform materials, bomb-proof vehicles, and heat. Others are more specific, including up-close looks at diarrhea in a war zone, shark repellent, and the use of maggots in wounds.

These matters are approached in what can only be described as a distinctively unsystematic fashion. Grunt is character-driven, with Roach taking center-stage as the chatty tour guide, while introducing numerous interview subjects, consisting of public relations officers, scientists, doctors, and various military men and women. Each person she meets is provided with a miniaturized portrait, often including a needlessly detailed physical description. Though I often found Roach to be a wearying companion, she is consistently effusive and unfailingly laudatory of the people she meets. It is not surprising that so many were willing to talk to her, such as a Special Forces operator who opens up about the condition of his bowels during missions.

By running the book through individuals, however, Roach foregoes any possibility of context or methodical exploration. She is like a pinball, and each time she bumps into a new personality, the storyline veers in a different direction. There were several occasions when she began to dig into something, only to toss the shovel aside after excavating an inch or two.


The upshot of this approach is that Grunt is hit-and-miss. Roach’s chapter on heat – especially relevant to soldiers in the Middle East – was great. Entertaining, brisk, and filled with factoids that I shared with my kids around the dinner table, it was pertinent to everyday life, not just the military. I felt the same way regarding her chapter on sleep, as fatigue results in similar cognitive deficits to being drunk. On the other hand, the stink-bomb section – a needless trip back to World War II, made solely for its potty-humor potential – was entirely a waste of time.

Most of the chapters had at least some redeeming features. The real problem is that many parts failed to reach their full potential.

For example, a chapter on combat medics is set entirely within a company that provides realistic exercises for trainees, including spouting blood and severed protheses. While Roach overloads the reader with information about the owner of the company, as well as one of the actors portraying a wounded man, she entirely neglects to answer her own question: “How do combat medics cope?” Not only that, but she misses a perfect opportunity to really celebrate lifesaving advances, by discussing how the U.S. military has honed its tactical field care. As Roach notes in passing, the large number of soldiers living with significant injuries – such as multiple amputations – is testament to an effective system of stabilization, triage, transport, and treatment. Yet she does not bother to follow this line of inquiry.


Perhaps the chief reason that Grunt fails to achieve more is that Roach is working overtime to make you laugh. Obviously, humor – along with beauty and literary merit – is exceptionally subjective. Thus, I won’t say that Grunt is unfunny. Rather, I will say that nothing about Roach’s humor charmed me.

I appreciate that Roach brings a particular jocularity to her investigation, as it leads her to pose questions that might otherwise go unasked. If nothing else, she seems to be having fun. But I tired of the constant wry interjections, and the lengthy digressions made only to setup an obvious punchline. Roach reminds me of Chandler from Friends, unable to keep from making a joke in every situation, no matter how serious. She operates under the apparent belief that her readers would be made uncomfortable by poignancy or profundity, so whenever she approaches those emotions, she gives us the written equivalent of a fart noise.

To illustrate this situation, I need only point out that there are not one, but two separate chapters devoted to groin injuries. Leaving aside the imbalance this creates – as I mentioned above, Roach leaves many fertile fields untilled – it is emblematic of a juvenile thrust to these proceedings. While devoting many pages to penis transplants, Roach makes the nuanced point that simply saving a life is not enough. It has to be a life worth living. Unfortunately, she obscures this meaningful observation with constant dick jokes that I definitely would have laughed at thirty years ago.


Ultimately, the only thing that holds Grunt together is its physical bindings. The thematic incoherence, the lack of depth, the jarring tonal shifts, and the gleeful dwelling on the ick-factor, makes this eminently forgettable. With that said, I knew this book’s limitations beforehand, and that such limitations were by design. This isn’t meant to be taken seriously; it’s meant to sell itself, and to amuse. It’s only fair to evaluate this on what it aspires to be, not what I think it should have been.

A few weeks from now, even months, I will probably remember some of the trivia contained within these pages. Undoubtedly, though, I will be unable to recall where that trivia came from.
Profile Image for Brett Shavers.
Author 8 books357 followers
May 18, 2016
Having served in the Marines (the entire time in an infantry battalion no less), reading about military gear and health research had me chuckling more than a dozen times, only because of having spent many nights in the rain, or the snow, or a desert, or a jungle, dealing with crap gear, tasteless food, and health risks.

Although much of the book is lighthearted, such as when talking about pooping in the field, the subjects are really life and death serious, which is probably why military members joke about these sorts of topics. How else can anyone deal with it other than laughing about it?

One paragraph in the book clearly stood out; a Marine amputee said that his worst injury was hearing loss, because "he couldn't communicate with his wife and kids."

I do not think non-military can ever fully appreciate the risks involved in merely serving in the military, let alone combat. Hollywood does no justice either with blockbuster movies never showing the military combat soldier having to deal with less-than-perfect gear, unsanitary conditions for days, or pushing through illness or injury to accomplish a mission. It is good to read something that brings to light the people behind the military soldier (or Marine, or Airman, or Sailor..) working hard to make the soldier’s job a bit more bearable.

Kudos to Mary Roach for talking about subjects that most citizens tend to avoid talking about, things like having diarrhea in battle…
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,050 reviews1,835 followers
August 30, 2017
Someone else yells, "Blood sweeps!" A corpsman trainee reaches under my back and slides both hands from shoulders to hips. He looks at his hands, checking for blood, for a wound that might have been overlooked. If you don't happen to be wounded, blood sweeps feel lovely.

Mary Roach. What can I say. One of the most entertaining non-fiction writers in existence. I always, always look forward to her books and they never disappoint. She's smart, funny, and compassionate: Ed Rachles is fucking lucky and he should be very, very thankful.

Driving back from lunch, Josh and Dan sit in the back, planning their workout. I hear Dan say, "one hundred snatches," which hits my ear like a Dr. Seuss title.

This book is Mary Roach exploring military science. But she is not interested in guns or bombs or destruction. Instead, she explores the nitty gritty details of uncomfortable life as a deployed person. Diarrhea, heat, maggots, and hearing loss are some of the topics covered here.

Until this trip, I thought of sweat as a sort of self-generated dip in the lake. But sweat isn't cool. It's warm as blood. It essentially IS blood. (A dip in the lake cools by conduction: contact with something colder. Highly effective but not always practical.) Sweat cools by evaporation: offloading your heat into the air. Like this: When you start to overheat, vessels in your skin dilate, encouraging blood to migrate there. From the capillaries of the skin, the hot plasma is offloaded through sweat glands - 2.4 million or so - onto the surface of the body to evaporate. Evaporation carries heat away from the body, in the form of water vapor.

Yes, the book isn't for everyone. Roach is infamous for pressing forward where most people would shy away. Cadavers, rot, maggots, diarrhea - nothing seems to turn her off. The hardest chapters for me to read were the two chapters on genital mutilation - males only, of course. As the book mentions, if a female soldier gets close enough to an IED to wreck her genitals - she's dead. I will not say something cliched like: "These chapters might be difficult for men to read" because I was wincing and cringing through the whole thing and I'm female.

Jezior narrates with simple anatomical vocabulary, but I can't always parse what I'm seeing in a way that matches the words. I can't even see PERSON in some of these images. I see BUTCHER SHOP. Bandages protect the psyche, too; some of these soldiers never saw what I'm seeing. Jezior had a patient who didn't see the injuries to his penis for three weeks. He clicks ahead to a slide from this man's arrival at the hospital, a close-up of the weapon-target interaction, as they say in ballistics circles. How do you prepare a patient like this for the unveiling? "We used to try to sound optimistic," Jezior says. "But when this guy finally saw it, he was like, 'Oh, my God.' It was another devastation, a second loss." Now, they're blunter. "I'll say, 'It's a severe injury. You'll have to see it.'" If there's going to be a surprise, let it be a positive one."

It was especially interesting to learn how much transgender sex operations have increased the ease and safety of rebuilding soldier's blown-off testicles and penii.

The great thing about Mary Roach is that she's so funny and charming. There are few situations she can't bring humor to. She is hilarious - it's very hard to get me to laugh out loud while reading a book, and I was laughing multiple times while reading this one. She is FUNNY. Here is a part where she discusses being on a ridealong during a military training exercise.

...but it's possible that the transcript of this mission would be somewhat irregular.

"Approaching village, over."

"Copy, Liberty. Any update from the target site?"

"You need to put some sunscreen on the back of your neck."

"This is Hammer in the overhead. We have four military-age males who appear to be orienting themselves to the objective area."

"Copy that, Hammer."

"So do the Taliban use hearing protection?"

"This is Hammer. We've got an exodus of women and children from the village. Two other military-age males messing with something under a tarp."

"Start surging assets."

"Halo, you are approved for rockets and guns, over."

"All those holes in the ground - are they from mortars, or like - "

"Prepare to attack!"

" - gophers?"

"Attack imminent!"

She talks about serious subjects and stares disgusting and traumatizing things in the face, but even in the middle of talking about something fascinating and gross, she will come up with a fun fact or an anecdote that will have me in stitches.

It is easy to get lost on the way to the Strategic Operations bathroom, and very entertaining. You might pass a rack of freshly painted excretory systems hanging in the sun to dry, or a man seated at a workbench, trimming the seams of a molded silicone Cut Suit penis. You might overhear a person say to another person, "If you use different blood, it voids the warranty." At one point I take a wrong turn and find myself in a storage area. A filing cabinet drawer is labeled "Spleens." "Aortas," another says. On top of the cabinet, Cut Suit skins are folded like blankets. When I finally find the bathroom, the sign on the door, which uses the military slang "HEAD," confuses me in a way it would ordinarily not have.

I always suggest Mary Roach to people who inform me, "I don't read non-fiction." It's kind of a gateway drug. If military science isn't your jam, she's written books on many other topics: the dead, the afterlife, the digestive system... pick your poison. She's always funny.

I also learn a lot of fun, cool, and interesting stuff from her books. She is so smart and so engaged - even with the minutiae - that she never fails to delight me and educate me. She finds so much joy in science and learning that it's impossible not to catch some of it.

One thing that was putting a smile on my face while reading this book was Roach's cute little flirting and sexual excitement of being around these Marines and Special Ops guys. She likes men, I like men, and I was enjoying how much fun she was having describing her new surroundings.

Fallon turns the class over to ArmorCorps' Craig Blasingame, a former Marine with a wide superhero jaw and muscles so big that when he walks in front of the slide projector, entire images can be viewed on his forearm. Though it's ten in the morning, Craig has a five o'clock shadow.

...Craig speaks like a bullhorn. He says this is because he lost some hearing as a Marine, but I think it's because there's so much strength coursing around in there that everything - whiskers, voice, the pectorals under his polo shirt - wants to burst forth in a powerful way.

Of course, she runs into many men she gets to admire and appreciate. In this book it is flirty and cute, but in EVERY book she has a knack for describing people in a unique, clever, and vivid way. It only happens to be provocative here because she is a straight woman plunged into this kind of environment, but in other books she just blows your mind with some of her startling ways of describing people - I often wonder what they think of it when they end up reading her book.

The Army Research Laboratory snapped up Nicole Brockhoff, premed at John Hopkins, with a graduate degree in biodefense. The youngest person to win the Secretary of Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Award. Bench presses 190. She's come down from her office in the Pentagon to attend to some things, and agreed to make me one of them. Whenever Mark takes over the explaining, Brockhoff drops back and takes out her phone. She does not seem rude, just grindingly busy and determined to stay on top of her day. I see her come and go in my peripheral vision, pacing, answering email. She gives the impression of someone for whom idleness is almost physically unbearable. She is gorgeous, articulate, fast-moving, powerful. Lesser humans are left blinking in her wake.

I highly recommend this book, or any of Roach's books. The only reason I'd hesitate is if you are squeamish. She doesn't gross you out for the sake of grossing you out, but in general I'd say the disgusting really fascinates her instead of repulses her and you should take that into account.

Her compassion and kindness always glimmer through. She despairs about the dead, especially since the dead soldiers are so young, but she doesn't bog down the book or get maudlin about it. You can see her good heart peek through all the humor and science. It's one of her (many) good qualities.

I also love learning and always walk away from a Roach book feeling a little bit more informed. She loves science and history and is able to dig up obscure facts and figures that you would never find out about on your own.

Tl;dr - Take a little trip with Mary Roach as she pulls back the curtain on the miltary's less-publicized wars: against diarrhea, heat exhaustion, flies, and hearing loss. Great book for both fiction-lovers and non-fiction-lovers. Mary Roach is funny and smart - you will find yourself grinning while reading this if not laughing outright. Highly recommended. Five stars.

Lieutenant Couturier, a circadian rhythm researcher at NSMRL, outfitted a planeload of Navy SEALs with blue light-emitting goggles on a series of flights from Guam to the East Coast of the United States, to see if it were possible to make them unattractive to females, oops, I mean, to keep them on Guam time.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,677 reviews2,324 followers
June 14, 2016
"An army marches on its stomach." ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

"Soldiers fight on their stomachs, but also on their toes and fingers and a decent night's sleep." ~ Mary Roach

Yep, this is Mary Roach Goes to War.

Roach is not Sebastian Junger; she was not embedded, trailing troops into combat zones. That was never her intention. Her book concerns the individuals behind the scenes, those who fight tirelessly to keep soldiers alive.

This book is a salute to the scientists and surgeons, running along in the wake of combat, lab coats flapping. Building safer tanks, waging war on filth flies. Understanding turkey vultures.

Public Enemy Number One for the US Air Force, responsible for 40% of the damage caused by birdstrikes.

There's a world of science and technology behind our men and women in uniform, from the designers at work creating said uniforms to those who labor at making mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles. And, because this is Mary Roach delving into the subject, we're also treated to exposés on researchers studying sweat and odors, physicians working on penis transplants, and scientists hoping to stem the tide of diarrhea.

She's a national treasure, our Mary!

This is a MUST READ for all Roach fans, and highly recommended to anyone possessing an interest in science, military history, or the more offbeat side of life and death.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,675 reviews12.8k followers
June 28, 2016
Roach is back for another scientific look at the world around us, this time honing her attention on the US Military. In ways unique to her, Roach is able to look at various aspects of military life and explore the informative components while injecting little known (or considered) facts about the process. Consider, for example the depth to which the Department of Defence has studied various materials for uniforms, from their flammability, coolness (temperature) factor, and even lack of fashion-worthiness. The controversial world of camouflage does not elude Roach, as she examines just how much thought (and many tax dollars) goes into a decision. However, this only skims the surfaces of her analyses, as she ventures into the world of prostheses, which are common among the injured returning from the battlefield and wishing to hold onto some semblance of their previous abilities. The reader might not expect the significant amount of attention paid to penile prosthetic implements and the surgery around trying to handle injuries to the area. Of course, Roach does not shy away from this, nor does her exploration keep her from asking (and writing) about the wonderful world of diarrhea, particularly for those deployed to 'non-first world domains'. Have you ever wondered what a sniper would do if they were hit with a bout of 'the runs' while scoping out an enemy? Roach has and writes about this, at length. From there, it is exploration of flies and maggots, both of whom have been the focus of numerous studies by the US Government. Of course, no examination of the military would be complete without discussion of weapons, though Roach chooses some less than expected armaments when she researches and talks about the odorous weapons that US Military brass chose to develop and deploy. Stink bombs, scents that would be displeasing to a cross-section of various ethnic communities, as well as the disturbing results of focus group studies (that many asked would actually consider wearing a vomit scent as a daily cologne/perfume!). While out of sights, Roach refuses to keep those aboard submarines out of mind as she examines sleep deprivation and circadian rhythms for the men and women prowling the deepest seas. Roach has outdone herself yet again and left me with tears in my eyes, trying to stifle a laugh in a subtle cough as I sat in public. Enjoyable for anyone, but preferably not read anytime near food consumption.

It could be Roach's delivery or her refusal to find anything off limits, but she has gone to the margins of possible exploration and then forged ahead. Her discovery of the most random areas of research and highlighting them in major portions of her chapters shows not only a strong grasp of the material, but also that she is able to synthesize it effectively. The reader will, if they are anything like me, remain agog of all the minutiae that comes to the surface while also constantly asking just how far Roach will push the envelope to add fodder to her books. She seems to write so seamlessly and with such confidence that the reader can absorb all that is presented and feel it is highly useful at the next dinner party or family gathering. The chapters remain all-encompassing though the entire book remains under 300 pages, allowing the reader to leave the experience without being too weighed-down with facts.

Kudos, Madam Roach for taking us into the world of the military through science rather than the incessant ISIS babble that fills the airwaves today.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews109k followers
July 26, 2016
Mary Roach is one of the few writers that I just wait around, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for her to publish a new book. I don’t even care what the book is about. In fact, I’m pretty sure when I pre-ordered my copy of Grunt, all I knew about it was the title. Mary Roach is a must-read for people like me… people who are fascinated about science but aren’t necessarily knowledgeable on the topic. As in all of her books, Roach explained the science of how the military life impacts human beings in a way that was both hilarious and completely lacking in condescension. She holds her reader’s hands through complex scientific explanations without them ever feeling as they’re being talked down to. Grunt isn’t my favorite Mary Roach (Stiff will always take that spot in my heart), but she didn’t fail at bringing her particular brand of irreverence, humor and intelligence to a topic I previously found myself ambivalent about.

— Elizabeth Allen

from The Best Books We Read In June 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/06/29/riot-r...
Profile Image for Greta G.
337 reviews237 followers
November 11, 2016
I have to admit I had never heard about Mary Roach or any of her books before, until my attention was drawn to Grunt, after one of my GR friends rated the book 4 stars.

After reading the synopsis and some reviews, I was convinced that I would like this book.
And I definitely did. Not because of the humor with which she writes but because I'm the kind of person that hasn't stopped asking "why?" since I was a toddler.

Grunt provides a lot of information to questions that I have or could have about all sorts of fascinating facts.

For instance, when I was reading books about the aftermath of the Hiroshima bomb, I was horrified to learn that the victims' wounds swarmed with maggots, and that everything was black, covered with flies. Why do flies thrive while everything else extinguishes?

This question is only answered partly in Grunt, but I learned a lot more about flies and maggots. And I have now an apocalyptic image in my mind of how the world would look like after life would be destroyed. It's a black & white picture, of flies and maggots , who will be the last survivors on earth until they cannibalized themselves.
 photo E951581D-F896-4ECF-836B-F79117F29293.jpg

Every now and then, Mrs. Roach also provides good advice to readers, for instance never sleep in the open without underpants. If you saw House MD, you probably already knew that.

It goes without saying that if your yuck factor is above average, you don't want to read this book, as it is packed with discomforting stories and unsettling facts.
Therefore, it is an interesting read for most of us.

Profile Image for Jay Green.
Author 4 books233 followers
March 5, 2017
I have to confess that I didn't find the subject matter as intriguing or original in this book as I have in Mary Roach's previous books. Plenty of other works have covered similar ground (these are the sorts of things that, as a writer, one researches!) and I didn't find a great deal here that I didn't already know or have some conception of. Roach's writing style is as adept and sure as always, but by the end I was hoping for something a little more dramatic and mind blowing than the revelations offered here.
Profile Image for Amanda NEVER MANDY.
447 reviews96 followers
September 12, 2017
My husband purchased this book and he lasted only four chapters. Don’t worry, this is normal. He loves books but doesn’t usually have the patience/time/want to read them all the way through. It used to bother me until I realized I could push him towards books I am willing to read so I can claim them after he abandons them. He happened upon this one after I told him I wanted to give this author a try. This isn’t the book I had in mind off of her list but it seemed to capture his attention for the moment so I begrudgingly agreed.

I love the author’s wit and sarcasm and especially love the perfectly timed use of it. It never failed that anytime I hit a dry spot her wit would shine through and bring me back to the page. I also enjoyed the content as odd as that may seem considering it wasn’t the most exciting information ever provided. I think that was exactly why I enjoyed it so. The info shared was the stuff you hardly ever hear about, stuff that is extremely necessary and actually quite important.

The most stick with me info I pulled from this book was how far science has gone with correcting/rebuilding male genitals after they are damaged and the bit about the heel fat pad. The first item I listed is pretty self-explanatory and if it isn’t, then feel free to read the book yourself. The second item is actually something that just fascinated me. The fact that the fat pad literally carries the weight of a person’s world on it and we haven’t figured out a way to recreate it. I think it is the only piece of fat on my body I can actually say is useful besides the two slabs of meat that provide me with a soft cushion to plop down on or bump into things with.
Profile Image for Maria V. Snyder.
Author 66 books16.8k followers
November 18, 2017
I bought this book because I kept seeing it in various bookstores throughout the mid-west back in August and I was curious (my background in science and interest in the military helped, too). Seems Mary Roach has been writing a bunch of these books and I had no idea! *I'm blinking in the brightness after crawling from my writer's cave*

The book was a fascinating read and I can't believe how much thought, time, and money goes into something like uniform fabrics. And I can't believe what Mary was willing to do and see and go in order to get enough information for her book. She watched surgeries, was around corpses, spent time in a submarine. I'm super impressed and thinking that learning how to blow glass for my books is really really tame in comparison! :)

She doesn't shy away from the sensitive or awkward subjects and she spends an entire chapter on flies and maggots (just don't read that chapter while you're eating and you'll be fine!) so be warned.

I now have a better sense and appreciation of what our soldiers have to deal with (besides bullets and IEDs and RPGs and suicide bombers, etc...) when deployed. Thank you all so very much!

I already have Spook on my TBR pile and I suspect I'll eventually read all her books. One good thing about living in a cave, is when you do find an author you like, there's a good chance they have a nice back list to catch up on :)
Profile Image for Jim.
362 reviews90 followers
February 26, 2017
With this offering Mary Roach sticks to her usual formula of investigative reporting with a touch of self-deprecating humour. Essentially, she delves into ways that science is used to facilitate warfare and improve conditions for fighting men and women both pre- and post-warfare. Throughout, she maintains an easy conversational tone and relates her findings in terms anyone can understand. I remember thinking that she described some of the physical afflictions, such as heat-related medical emergencies, in a way that I finally felt that I had a grip on it.

Some parts of the book will bring back flashbacks for any old soldier. The sections pertaining to fatigue and sleep deprivation brought back unpleasant memories. I recall that, during training exercises, directing staff thought it important to drive us for as many days as they could with little or no sleep, as if you could train yourself to overcome fatigue. The resulting sleepwalking and hallucinations might seem funny in retrospect, but it was good to learn that fatigue is finally being looked at as a problem by the military.

It occurs to me that Ms Roach has an enviable job. Her research takes her to many unique environments and she meets all manner of interesting people, all of whom get full credit in print. She was even able to finagle herself aboard a submarine! An interesting read if you don't mind being educated on some gross topics like filth flies and explosive diarrhea.

Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,503 reviews2,315 followers
November 14, 2016
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach is another wonderful book by a women that tackles subjects and picks them apart for us readers. I have read all her books and love every one of them. The first few books were so funny that I laughed in every one but she has been getting into my serious stuff lately. She still makes reading light where she can but what I enjoy is that she finds things about the subject, in this case, humans at war, and explores the smallest things that we would never even think of and let's the rest of us know what she finds out. It is truly fascinating the strange and unusual info that is obtained by reading her books. They are never boring and she keeps it lighthearted when she can. She explores and investigates things I never would have thought to investigate. I hope she keeps up the great work and can't wait for her next book. Will keep watch at the library!
Profile Image for Lynn.
1,608 reviews47 followers
July 10, 2016
The science of keeping military personnel alive and intact covers many areas of expertise and I was kind of surprised that Mary Roach got so much access and cooperation. The military representatives' honesty about the science behind catastrophic injury, amputation, hearing loss, dysentery, human stress and panic reactions, sleep deprivation, and the casualties of war was astounding to me. Amazingly, they let her on a deployed nuclear ballistic submarine. As with all her books, I learned lots of interesting stuff. I didn't initially want to read this book when I saw the title because I figured it was about the science of weapons.....but not a mention. My respect for U.S. armed forces dramatically increased.
Profile Image for Robin.
1,425 reviews36 followers
March 18, 2016
Roach (quoting the publisher’s description), “…explores the science of keeping human beings intact, awake, sane, uninfected, and uninfested in the bizarre and extreme circumstances of war.” And Mary says, “I'm interested in the parts that no one makes movies about -- not the killing but the keeping alive."

I have loved every book Mary Roach has written (STIFF is still my favorite, followed by PACKING FOR MARS) and was waiting with great anticipation for her next book, but quite frankly, when I heard it was about the science of war I was a little disgruntled as I try to avoid anything war related. But there was no reason to worry. This is an amazing book, one that will have you exclaiming every five minutes, “Whoa, I didn’t know that!” or, “Huh. Isn’t that fascinating”?

A few of the topics covered are uniforms (did you know there is a 22-page document covering clothing button specifications?), how soldiers cope with the heat (Roach’s explanation about heat exhaustion vs heat stroke was very well explained), scents created for warfare (not to kill but to discourage, such as one titled "Who? Me?"), and how submariners deal with bad things happening (like water cascading into the vessel). But my favorite part (and one I don’t recommend for the squeamish) is the chapter on using maggots for wounds (yes, it is used in modern medicine), and only Mary Roach can get away with calling baby maggots “adorable.” (I said this in a tweet and in typical Mary Roach fashion she replied, “Like so many of Earth's creatures -- only when they're young.”

The bottom line is we should all realize how special Mary Roach is and how lucky we are to have her curiosity and diligence so we can be enlightened and entertained in the ways of science. Plus her sense of humor is freakin' hilarious.
Profile Image for Morris.
964 reviews160 followers
August 21, 2018
Mary Roach has done it again with another great book about the more macabre side of science. It's packed full of interesting facts and explanations of different processes that is easy to read while being entertaining. Highly recommended for those who love learning.

Unbiased rating based upon a copy won through the Goodreads First Reads program.
Profile Image for Jill Mackin.
339 reviews151 followers
July 22, 2018
I love Mary Roach's approach to her subjects. Such enthusiasm! I gobbled Grunt up in one sitting. Got quite an education on maggots as medicine.
Profile Image for Cody.
304 reviews67 followers
July 16, 2018
"These are the people I want to speak with. I'm interested in diarrhea as a threat to national security. How would the takedown of Osama bin Laden have played out had one of the SEALs been fighting the forces of extreme urgency? How often is food poisoning the cause of a mission fail?" (152)

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach is a combination of hilarious intrigue, informative data, and the consequences of service from a variety of battlefield conditions soldiers have continually faced since the profession came about. While the above quote contains hints of playful intrigue, questions like these Roach asks researchers and soldiers in the book are no doubt fascinating and a totally different (yet highly important) way we look at war and the men and women who fight in them.

Besides the example of diarrhea from third world foods and living conditions, Roach looks at examples such as effective zippers for snipers working in a prone position, the physiology of both sweat and sleep to a soldier or sailor, the psychology of combat medics, non-lethal psych-ops of smell (both good and bad) i.e. latrines or homemade bread, and many other arbitrary yet crucial items of importance. Perhaps one of the more important contemporary examples of medicine combined with science is the reconstruction of male genitalia for unfortunate soldiers shot in the groin. Roach's trip to Walter Reed Medical Center and seeing the advances in technology and understanding of this condition thanks to the transgender community was very insightful and brought light to a little-known subject from military medical circles.

That is the strength of this book, how it provides hints of humour alongside very important pieces of science that for many of us wouldn't even cross our minds. When one thinks military service, one is picturing heroism, patriotism, and perhaps the negative attributes of PTSD from combat. It's hard to believe nobody that has served in the military is thinking of the high statistics of diarrhea from serving in Iraq or being stationed in Djibouti, or the critical research like flame resistant clothing being done at the labs at Natick. Roach has done a great honour bringing light to the researchers, scientists, and doctors who bring these little instances of triumph that we as a public don't hear about and can't fully appreciate.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,023 followers
February 10, 2017
Mary Roach is a hoot. In her introduction, she says this book isn't about the typical military stuff. She doesn't shine a spotlight, but is a 'goober with a flashlight' looking around in all the odd nooks & crannies. For instance, she starts her introduction discussing the chicken gun. Yes, it shoots chickens to test how well aircraft & other things stand up to bird strikes. No gory details, just a slightly humorous discussion of bird sizes, densities, & how the tests protect the pilots.

Table of Contents
1) Second Skin: What to wear to war A lot of fabrics can make things worse by melting or making wounds worse in other ways. Sometimes the safest just don't work out in the field, though.

2) Boom Box: Automotive safety for people who drive on bombs figure out how best to use the limited amount of armor that can be put on a vehicle. It's not just its frame & tires, but the terrain it has to navigate, including roads that can get ruined in short order. They also look into injuries to spines & legs in an attempt to stop them from happening or at least alleviating them.

3) Fighting by Ear: The conundrum of military noise is that weapons are loud & can ruin hearing in short order, but ear protection can mean not hearing enemy movement. Sure, there are mechanical aids, but they require batteries. How many different types of batteries can a soldier be expected to carry & how often do they need replacing?

4) Below the Belt: The cruelest shot of all has become very common with IEDs buried in & along roads. It's not just legs, but what's between them. Loss of sexuality is usually worse than the loss of a limb.

5) It Might Get Weird: A salute to genital transplants see above. They're trying hard to fix the issue.

6) Carnage Under Fire: How do combat medics cope? Making complex decisions under pressure is tough. Making them when loud noises are going off is even worse since we reflexively tend toward fight or flight - simple actions.

7) Sweating Bullets: The war on heat is a bitch. We need to sweat, soldiers need to cover up & carry a lot of equipment, often in temperatures they're not acclimated to.

8) Leaky SEALs: Diarrhea as a threat to national security sounds like a joke, but it's not. The statistics for 'death by dysentery' were higher than those by combat for most of history. It's not just spoiled food, but nasty latrines with flies shuttling shit back & forth.

9) The Maggot Paradox: Flies on the battlefield, for better and worse Flies aren't all bad. Maggots can clean a wound better than a surgeon even with modern equipment under the best conditions.

10) What Doesn’t Kill You Will Make You Reek: A brief history of stink bombs Crazy OSS hijinks with super secret stench. The trouble is, one man's stink is another man's perfume or at least not nearly as bad. Funny, but she never mentioned skunk.

11) Old Chum: How to make and test a shark repellent would be better titled "Sharks, why bother?" Another total boondoogle.

12) That Sinking Feeling: When things go wrong under the sea things really go bad. No thanks!

13) Up and Under: A submarine tries to sleep was surprising. Not allowing people proper sleep seems ridiculous even when it's not easy to accomplish, but I know hospitals do it, too. Her stats on cognitive function loss are scary, especially considering what they do.

14) Feedback from the Fallen: How the dead help the living stay that way by seeing how immediate treatment methods were applied, if they could have been applied better, or if they need changing. Very cool.

As usual, it was entertaining, but I finished the book feeling as if a lot had been left out. I don't really know why, but I could have read a book twice as long & I'm sure she had plenty of other topics to cover. Maybe she'll Grunt twice.
Profile Image for Monica.
583 reviews611 followers
December 3, 2021
An entertaining look from Mary Roach. More about biology than technology. A look at how the body adjusts/responds to environments created by war and some of the science behind recovering from injuries caused by environments and weapons of war. Some very fascinating chapters, however I was expecting more about the science and technology revolving around the development of the equipment/weapons used in war and/or equipment used in protection against such items. I suppose in this current world, that might not be the idea. I'm sure such books exist, but I understand Roach's approach.

4 Stars

Listened to Audible. Abby Elvidge was the perfect narrator for Mary Roach books. Perfect inflections, cadence and emoting to keep it interesting.
Profile Image for Debbie Zapata.
1,759 reviews29 followers
December 1, 2022
Nov 30, 1030pm ~~ So many of my GR friends have written rave reviews about books by Mary Roach that I finally could not stand my curiosity any longer. I ordered three used editions so I could see for myself. My first choice (completely random, it just happened to be the one showing when I was at the bookcase the other day to restock my Up Next Basket) was Grunt.

This is from the inside front cover:
"Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries ~ panic, exhaustion, heat, noise ~ and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them."

At first I was a little put off by her flippant attitude, and the 'dumb blonde' questions she always seemed to be asking. But that is how a reporter gets her answers at times. I've used that approach myself more than once. Or maybe that is just her way of coping with being up close and personal with cadavers, reconstructive surgery, gruesome details about intestinal issues, and the other gory topics Roach covers in the fourteen chapters of this book.

So once I made allowances for her style, and once she explained where the military gets the cadavers they use for testing the effects of explosive devices (all are donated) I was interested enough to zip right along and be appropriately amazed at the government's efforts to protect the men and women it sends off to war.

This is no reflection on the writing, but it is too bad that all of this government research is even necessary. Why can't human beings learn to live peacefully together? I know, killing each other seems to be wired into our core beings. From the beginning that is all we have done. The last one standing is the winner and that winner will have the benefit of all the wonderful toys Roach writes about here.

On one hand how lovely that the government is supposedly trying to make a soldier's life more comfortable both during and after the battle. On the other hand how sad that all this war business is still around at all. Kudos to the scientists we meet in these pages, but I do wish there was no need for them. No need for soldiers, no need for anyone to wonder where the cadavers come from or where all the flowers have gone.

I was torn for a rating here, and have decided to go with three stars. I liked the book, but I got too depressed over the subject to go any higher on the scale. Maybe when Mary and I pack for Mars I will be less bothered by the grim reality behind the flippancy.

Profile Image for happy.
303 reviews91 followers
September 12, 2017
In Grunt, Ms. Roach looks at what the scientists working for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) are doing to support the men and women going in harms way. In her research she visits several DoD research centers and bases. She talks to the people doing the research, those developing the products based on that research and probably most importantly to the people who will be using those products.

The first the topic she looks at is how the military develops uniforms and the requirements behind them. It really is not as simple as picking out what looks the best and whipping some clothes. The military is trying to make them as heat resistant and blast proof as possible while still being relatively inexpensive and wearable. I know from personal experience this is not as easy as it sounds. I was in the Army (early '80s) when the BDU was adopted as the work uniform. It was supposed be all weather - all climate, so no summer weight uniform was developed. Then Grenada happened and the soldiers deployed found the BDUs was just too d*** hot to wear in the tropics. While they were hurriedly developing a light weight version of the BDU, we were authorized to wear Viet Nam era Jungle Fatigues - at considerable less expense to those of us that had to purchase uniforms $8 a set vs $32. While she is looking at uniform development she also talks about how sometime fashion does come into selection of uniforms. She gives the example of the camo craze and the Navy’s adopting a Navy specific camouflage daily work uniform. When she asks one the Navy officers in charge of the developing the uniform why it has to be camouflaged, he basically says – I don’t know, maybe so we can’t find someone who falls overboard. The next topic she explores is vehicle development – and the why and how the MRAP (a mine resistant vehicle that was developed to withstand IEDs) came to be.

The science behind keeping the soldier/marine/airman/sailor healthy and able to perform is not skimped on either. Whether it is putting a soldier back together after a catastrophic injury, keeping him for contracting dysentery, having a heat stroke or preventing hearing loss all are looked at, some times in stomach churning detail. When she is exploring heat exhaustion/heat stroke, the author give quite a detailed explaination on how it occurs and why it is so dangerous..

Ms Roach does not only look at the current science, but gives a short history lesson of some of the attempts the military has tried to use science to develop unconventional weapons. One of the highlights is the attempt in WW II to make an aroma so foul that when it was somehow put on an unsuspecting Japanese officer he would lose face and become ineffective as a leader – it didn’t work. They couldn't find a universally foul order that worked over all cultures.

Finally she spends some time with Submariners and looks at how the Navy is trying to make their lives easier while on patrol, including sleep schedules and how they can get out of a disabled vessel.

She writes with a humorous, self-deprecating style as she navigates the Acronym factory that is the DoD. I found this book a fascinating read, if a little uncomfortable at times. A word of warning to those with a weak stomach or reservations about talking about sensitive subjects. She is very descriptive, as I mentioned earlier, at time stomach churning in describing the causes and effects of diarrhea. Also, due to the nature of many of the wounds coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, she spends considerable time with the surgeons and researchers at Walter Reed (among other hospitals) exploring what the DoD is doing to help servicemen recover from injuries to the genitals. This includes but is not limit to reconstructing the penis and actually transplanting said organ.

As an old soldier, I found this a fascinating look at where the modern military is heading and very fun read – definite 4 star read
Profile Image for Sarah Shoo.
178 reviews6 followers
May 9, 2016
I first must admit that I've loved Mary Roach's books since I discovered Stiff, so I'm not sure that this is a totally unbiased review. She is able to take subjects that shouldn't be in any way, shape, or form entertaining, and she not only makes them interesting but real and engaging.
She goes beyond the obvious in this, and all her books, to find the odd and the obscure. (Where does she find this stuff?! 22 pages of button specifications in the military fashion handbook???? Chicken guns????)
Before discovering Roach, I would've told you that I didn't prefer nonfiction, and before I read Grunt, I would've told you I didn't prefer books on war. I think this is because she is "interested in the parts [of war] that no one makes movies about -- not the killing but the keeping alive".
Roach brings her wry humor, her ability to find the interesting in the mundane, and her ability to tease out the important bigger picture in this mundane to Grunt as with her previous novels.
Profile Image for Emily.
296 reviews1,528 followers
December 3, 2019
This was really interesting! It's a thorough examination of a few niche areas of military science, but not much else. It's doesn't really try to contextualize that science within the broader American Machine of War, which is its great shortcoming.

I understand that Roach's avoidance of reckoning with the bloody, exploitative legacy of the American military was probably because that is almost too large to grapple with. But the entire lack of that context left me feeling... Not Great.
Profile Image for Jody McGrath.
350 reviews52 followers
June 1, 2017
Actually 3 and 1/2 stars

Not my favorite Mary Roach novel. Still amazing, I mean it is Mary Roach. I just felt like she could only be a spectator a reporter for this book, whereas, so many of her books she is a huge participant. She did participate when she could, this is Mary, but due to a lot of it being military and government stuff, she could only tell us their stories. Still an amazing book. Mad props to the men and women of the Armed Service and all those who support them, whether it be, family, friends and community, or the unseen volunteers, body donors, janitors, food service personnel and everyone else in between. We get to sleep easier because they all do their job. Thank you all for making my life better.
Profile Image for Simone.
1,431 reviews45 followers
May 31, 2016

New Mary Roach book?


If you are a fan of Mary Roach books, this does not disappoint. This book mostly pokes around the hidden underbelly or hidden corners of the military industrial complex, where there are large research budgets dedicated to all kinds of scientific discovery. Roach does a great job reminding people why these things matter. For example, it matters the kind of fabric soldiers are wearing, because it can have serious effects when they are shot at or things explode. Like Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void this is in part about the scientific discovery that is possible when unique problems meet researchers who are unafraid to take risks and are able to find the funding to support them. Because this is a Mary Roach book all the usual suspects are here: investigations are likely to lean in the direction of "prurient interests," (there are two chapters dedicated to genital injuries and transplants), talk about diarrhea, sex and cadavers. But here she is able to explain that these things are not often talked about but often really matter. Penis transplants may seem weird, and not an injury that politicians can feel good about putting an arm around a soldier's shoulder for a photo-op, but they are traumatic, and can seriously impact a returning veteran's quality of life. Same with hearing loss. Basically, I highly recommend this.

(Many thanks to the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.)
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