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Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  18,336 ratings  ·  2,177 reviews
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 f
Hardcover, 285 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company
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Will Byrnes
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 ch
Petra-X Off having adventures
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 th
J.L.   Sutton
Dec 15, 2016 rated it liked it
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. Beside ...more
Brett Shavers
May 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
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 a
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sciency-stuff, war
"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 wa
Greta G
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
Book Riot Community
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 ...more
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
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-w ...more
Jay Green
Mar 05, 2017 rated it liked it
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 revelation ...more
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Maria V. Snyder
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 w
Jul 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Nov 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-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 he
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 emerge ...more
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Jill Mackin
Jul 22, 2018 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Montzalee Wittmann
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it

Update: This was almost Gulp-level good. Does not even come close to Stiff, but, what could?
Jul 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
"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 conti
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 the
Sarah Shoo
May 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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????)
Dec 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jody McGrath
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, fa
May 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-read

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 fo
BAM Endlessly Booked
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, e-book, essays
Maybe more like a 3.5?
I cannot believe the military cooperated with the author so willingly! I realize no top secret information was divulged, but still! Also I realized there really isn't one chapter appropriate to discuss at the dinner table. I thought," oh, I can't wait to tell_ this tomorrow night." Then I remembered we would be eating.
Feb 19, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative and witty, as always with the inquisitive Mary Roach. It turns out that my pacifist self is even less interested in the science of war than I had anticipated, so this collection didn't hold up to her other five. If you have not yet read any of them, I suggest trying Bonk or Stiff. Those are both excellent. ...more
Jul 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016, nonfiction, war
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.

I've only read one other Mary Roach (Stiff, which I remembered as worthwhile, but rereading my review for it just now, I realise that I wasn't that impressed by it at the time), and Grunt follows the familiar path: Roach is given free access to the scientists working behind the scenes on a topic (in t
Jun 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business, arc, politics
I honestly never knew war was so...complicated. I don't think I ever considered how important it is for soldiers to have underwear that is lightweight, durable, AND moisture-wicking. Or how damaging birds can be to military aircraft. Or how vital it is to have a good surgeon around when you've experienced lower body trauma. (Yikes.)

Grunt is a unique book, to say the least. It would have been easy for Roach to get bogged down in the detailed ridiculousness of it all, but she never does. It's obvi
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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; and BONK: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.

Her most recent book, GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War, is out in June 2016.

Mary has written for National Geographic, Wired, Discover

Articles featuring this book

As we wrap up our 2018 Reading Challenge, we decided to ask our Goodreads coworkers a simple yet tough question: What were the...
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“Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history. Sometimes a chicken can save a man’s life.” 14 likes
“How about suicide rate. And what a shame to lose them after they’ve made it back. We keep them alive, but we don’t teach them how to live.” 8 likes
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