Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War [UK Import]

by Mary Roach

Paperback, 2017





Oneworld Publications (2017), 288 pages


Science. Technology. Nonfiction. HTML: A New York Times / National Bestseller "America's funniest science writer" (Washington Post) 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 adversariesâ??panic, exhaustion, heat, noiseâ??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… (more)


½ (289 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bragan
This isn't a book about the science of weaponry or anything like that, but instead focuses on various oddball problems faced by the military in its attempts to keep human bodies alive and functional on battlefields and in ships, and the science and technology it's explored for that purpose. And,
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OK, also on things like attempts to create demoralizing stink bombs to drop on the enemy. If you've read any of Mary Roach's previous books, this one will feel very familiar. It's quirky and breezy and cheerfully willing to look at subjects that other people politely (or disgustedly) turn away from, whether it's the scourge of diarrhea, the use of maggots to clean wounds, or the details of reconstructive surgery on someone who's had his genitals blown off.

I will say that I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as some of her others. I think that may be partially because her approach to things has gotten a little too familiar by now. (Ho, hum, she's talking about feces again.) Also partly because even though she is deliberately not talking about the killing-people parts of military technology, war is a subject that feels uncomfortable and sad to me in ways that even the discussions of death in [Stiff] didn't. Hell, [Stiff] genuinely helped me to feel more comfortable with the idea of death and dead bodies, and that was a really good and useful thing. But I don't want to get comfortable with, or have fun with, the idea of war. And I think that made it a little weird to read.

But, still. Even not-quite-as-enjoyable Mary Roach is still full of bizarre and fascinating facts and stories and entertaining little asides, and this one certainly still has all of that. Especially as the military has apparently come up with some very, um, creative ideas over the years.
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LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
I LOVE Mary Roach's books. For each of them, she chooses a topic and then explores it chapter by chapter from various viewpoints. It helps that she has a wicked sense of humor.
For this book, she chose the men and women of the Armed Forces. Her chapters covered military clothing, armoring of
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military vehicles, safety measures in submarines, and all the medical magic that goes into helping our wounded warriors.
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LibraryThing member JJbooklvr
Don't be turned off by the title or description of this book. If it was not for the author I might have passed it by myself. Mary Roach has the unique ability to take just about any subject matter that on the surface you would not think you have the least interest about and make it fascinating.
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Also, she will make you laugh out loud as she talks about some things that you just don't want to picture in your head. A sure fire recommendation for anyone who thinks they don't like nonfiction or just wants to be entertained while learning something along the way.
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LibraryThing member HeatherMS
I really enjoyed the author's narrative on what soldiers have to face out on the front. She shows how some of these issues that may compromise a soldier: hearing loss, diarrhea, fatigue, etc., and talks to scientists are trying to find ways to solve some of the problems. She also delves into how
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the US was coming up with ways to defeat the enemy, such as concocting a smell that they could unleash on Japanese soldiers that would make them gross smelling -- thus making them embarrassed which would distract them from fighting.

The author injects humor throughout the book. She definitely did her research and is not afraid to give her own opinion. I would definitely recommend this book.

** I received this book through Goodreads Member Giveaway. The opinion is solely my own. **
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LibraryThing member RobertP
Another Roach masterpiece.
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Mary Roach loves the sexual and scatological and presents areas of her subject the reader never would have thought of, as usual. A little tip: sharks are usually shy and unlikely to attack humans and not attracted by menstrual blood, but polar bears are - plan your vacation accordingly.
LibraryThing member ritaer
This book has a lot on interesting information about the role of research in designing weapons, uniforms, troop protection devices and other aspects of military life. Some humorous anecdotes, some sad and serious. Roaches first book, _Stiffs_ touched on some of these topics when she discussed the
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use of cadaver limbs in research to improve battle armor. More on this topic, on noise control, on sleep deprivation, genital reconstruction surgery, submarine safety, etc. I am glad to know this research is being done, while wishing that it were not necessary.
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LibraryThing member oldbookswine
An easy to read book on the effects of war on the human body. Mary Roach approaches the worst case injuries and give good science and medicine approaches. I learned a lot about sleep on subs, hearing loss, genital transplants and uniforms. Each area is something you think you know about but really
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don't. If you have friends or relatives who have served in war since WWII you may find information that will be helpful to you as well as the vet.
Mary Roach has several science books and they are always enjoyable and informative. Her sense of humor helps in the tough areas of the book.
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LibraryThing member Iambookish
There aren't too many authors that make my pulse start racing when I hear they are coming out with a new book, Roach is definitely in that category! Funny thing, the last two offerings of hers I thought I'd like more than I did, and this one didn't seem like something that would interest me. Oh ye
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of little faith. I should have known that in Roach's capable hands and curious mind that she would make the subject of war thought provoking with out turning off the reader.

I hope with her wide readership that our young service men and women will become news again, instead of what makes the headlines currently!
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LibraryThing member debnance
It takes skill to write a wonderful fiction book. But, to me, the most magnificent writers aren’t those who write fiction but those who take what is often tedious and boring informational text and find a way to delight and fascinate readers.

One of those amazing nonfiction writers is Mary Roach.
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It doesn’t matter what subject Roach takes on---and she has taken on subjects as diverse as cadavers and the afterlife and the digestive system---this author always manages to bring a bright new look at an old tired subject. Her latest book is Grunt and here Roach takes a look at the science behind everything people use in war.

I have no real interest in war or science, but this book like every other Roach book I’ve read was completely captivating. Page after page, I ooed and aaed as the author shared all she had discovered during her extensive hands-on research about war.

Another amazing nonfiction book from Mary Roach.
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LibraryThing member dougcornelius
An enjoyable collection of essays about the science that comes from the brutality of war. It's a collection of 14 essays on clothing, loud noises, heat, diarrhea, maggots, stink, shark repellent and few other topics. It's topics about keeping soldiers safe, but also most applies to non-soldiers in
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less peril.

The writing is sharp and enjoyable. There is a levity to the approach that does an admirable job of balancing the seriousness of the problem. However, I found a few of the jokes punched in like a bad comedy act. It seems like she might of gone a few pages without a joke, so she crams one in.
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LibraryThing member bookappeal
Roach tackles a number of topics affecting US military, from uniforms and equipment that protect the soldier but are also light enough to wear and carry, to the new types of injuries caused by IEDs, to the bizarre scientific research that is part of military medical science. As with previous books,
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the value of Roach's outlook is that she sees it with a novice's eye and isn't afraid to ask the questions any one of us might - and then makes it funny. In the case of the military, the humor is tinged with horror. Roach learns that an impaired submarine will have more than seven days of food on hand because "you're probably dealing with a proportion of the crew" and it takes Mary (and the reader) a moment before the penny drops - because several members of the crew will certainly have died trying to repair the damage. With this subject especially, Roach's humor is funny but always respectful.
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LibraryThing member mstrust
Roach goes where research is being done in all aspects of war survival and recovery. She attends a war survival recreation school, visits a laboratory that houses the most offensive smells ever created in the name of war, follows the trail of scientists who work to keep military food sanitary,
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thereby cutting down on serious illness among soldiers, and other scientists who believe maggots may be a viable medical tool. Roach has an incredibly high tolerance for the stuff that would have the rest of us barfing, but that doesn't stop this from being very readable, as it's full of amazing accomplishments, unsung heroes, and Roach's humor.
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LibraryThing member SirRoger
Those who know Mary Roach's work, know that she loves to explore the science of things that are a little bit gross, a little bit on the taboo fringes, generally. Whether she's discussing corpses in Stiff, the afterlife in Spook, or sex in Bonk, readers know they will be informed, engaged, and
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laughing out loud.

In Grunt, the unifying subject is war and the military. She covers all kinds of things that most people (especially lay persons not involved in military service) probably have never given much thought to, like genital transplants and post-op sex-ed for blast victims, or how to train combat medics, and the operate-able prosthetics involved. Sleep deprivation on submarines, WWII stink bombs, shark repellent, medical maggots, diarrhea and navy seals, the never-ending quest for the perfect military clothing. These are all topics Roach elucidates, and with her usual wit and aplomb.

While not as laugh-out-loud funny as some of her other books, Grunt is still very informative and engaging. I do recommend it, but those that are squeamish about the occasional irreverence, (or about discussion of surgery and amputation, for example) may wish to pass.

A note for listeners: I did not particularly like the audiobook reader (Abby Elvidge, just in case there are multiple versions). Her tone was a bit too "zany-jokey" for my taste, and I feel a different approach would better suit Roach's particular style of wit. It was most distracting in the beginning, making it hard to stay connected with the actual text of the book in the first few chapters. Whether Elvidge got used to the material and toned down her delivery, or whether I just got used to her, I'm not sure, but most of the book was fine after that.

I give the book 4 stars (I really liked it), and the reading performance 2 stars (It was ok).
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LibraryThing member seasonsoflove
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

This was another one of those books where I was so excited to get an ARC, I'm pretty sure I squealed out loud.

I should preface this by saying I love
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Mary Roach's books. My mother does too. In fact, Roach graduated from the same college I went to (though not the same year). My mother once showed up early enough for a talk she was giving that she got to sit next to Roach before everyone else got there, and just chat with her.

She said Roach was absolutely fascinating and funny, just like you would hope.

In Grunt, Roach again works her unique style of magic, this time centered around the science surrounding humans at war. She volunteers to participate in a heat stroke test, and to act as an injured party (complete with fake squirting blood) in an attack simulation. She visits the home of a man who studies the healing power of maggots, and stops in at a lab dedicated to the possibility of genitalia transplants, as well as one focused on preventing debilitating diarrhea.

Through it all, Roach never loses her sense of humor, her deep curiosity, or her willingness to learn. Nothing will stop her from approaching an intimidating Special Ops officer at the lunch table to ask him about his bowel movements, all in the name of science of course.

Grunt is a look at the side of war that isn't typically written about, the scientific side, where developing shark repellent and the most disgusting smelling weapons could just be the key to winning it all.
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LibraryThing member judtheobscure
Really, really not as fun as the other of her books I've read. Started out well with a chicken gun then never rose to the occasion as much afterward....
LibraryThing member joyceclark
I've read a number of Mary Roach's books, starting with Packing for Mars and continuing with Stiff and now Grunt. Gulp is already on my bedside table.

Roach is the type of person who is insatiably curious, and who will ask ANYTHING. Her style is consistently engaging, witty yet informative. Grunt is
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no exception. You may never have wondered what materials are used for different military uniforms, how vehicles are designed to minimize injuries from driving over explosive charges, or how the military decides what soldiers & sailors eat, but Roach takes you along with her, exploring these topics and more.
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LibraryThing member MaureenCean
Maybe a little less than four. I felt myself drifting from time to time listening to this, a bit of a data overload maybe, and the different topics did not flow together as smoothly as I recall from her other two books I have read. In fact, I thought the book ended practically in the middle of a
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train of thought. I was driving through a night paving zone at the time and thought maybe I was distracted so I listened to the last chapter again in the morning. Nope, it still felt like it just ended. I have adapted to this narrator, deciding in the end that the lighter tone of voice is perhaps more suitable for topics that are either morbid, tragic or just not mentioned in polite conversation. And it reflects the humor in her work as well. Roach excels at making various scientific topics accessible to the lay person, telling the story behind the story, and along the way humanizing hardworking scientists and other researchers. I can handle reading about harder science, but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.
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LibraryThing member melissarochelle
Read on March 04, 2016

The second volume ended with a WHAAAATTT??! and this DID NOT pick up where that left off. The momentum from that ending was gone in the third volume. Instead there are guest artists and some insight into individual gods. The introduction/development of characters previously
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unseen was interesting, but then those characters quickly disappeared. And there's still little explanation as to what in the world is going on (or if there was explanation, it was just made more confusing by all of the jumping around). More than a little annoying...are the creators bored with their own creation? Are they trying to pull an Ananke? Did they need a break?
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LibraryThing member bgknighton
An entertaining look at some of the problems of being a soldier and some of the solutions being sought for them — some more fanciful than practical. The problems range from intestinal to sleep deprivation. A wide ranging overview of a soldier’s life.
LibraryThing member GlennBell
Mary’s book includes 14 chapters on various topics related to military science. She picked some areas of particular interest related to sweat, sleep, autopsy, genital injury, hearing, automotive safety, clothing,diarrhea, and penile transplants. The author has a good sense of humor and conducted
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significant research. I am impressed that she was permitted access and information from the military. Overall it is an interesting read I do not consider it one of her best books.
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LibraryThing member trile1000
Grunt is Mary Roach’s entertaining yet informative take on military science. She continues her successes of Stiff and Packing for Mars with this latest edition of writer learning about weird and taboo subjects. Topics she tackles in this book include diarrhea, maggot therapy, genital wounds,
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genital surgery, sweat, stink bombs, and shark repellants. Such a strange collection but it works well. Grunt covers with gusto a broad and fascinating array of material. History, humor, and research are wrapped together in a fun package with some of funniest footnotes I’ve seen. A recommended read for those interested in military science yet still want a chuckle.
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LibraryThing member LyndaInOregon
Mary Roach, whose recent literary career has been based on asking the un-askable (Why do we poop? Can the soul be weighed? What are the mortician's favorite cosmetic tricks?) and providing answers which are both informative and highly readable, has tackled an equally unlikely subject in
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Technically, one could categorize this as "military science / medicine". Roach takes a look at everything from genital reconstruction to sleep deprivation to stink bombs and -- most often -- manages to keep her wry humor and finely-tuned sense of the ridiculous.

But this is a tough climb, and the book is at times a difficult read. One can endure only so many descriptions of the kinds of damage intentionally done to one human by another before the mind numbs and simply wants to shut down.

The book is buoyed (pun intended) by the chapters on submarine service -- underwater escape techniques, the Navy's search for an effective shark repellent, and even a study of sleep-deprivation among submarine crews.

Overall, it's a worthwhile read, but probably not the best introduction to Roach's oeuvre.
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LibraryThing member MontzaleeW
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
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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!
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LibraryThing member elam11
I have high standards for Mary Roach's almost-always monosyllabic romps through science's intersections with humans, and Grunt did not disappoint.

Disclaimer: I won an ARC from a GoodReads giveaway (my first and only so far, hooray), and my honest review will be based on that.

It'd be easier to list
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things I didn't like in this book. I thought the later chapters flowed a bit better than the earlier ones. The early chapters had perfunctory transitions from chapter-to-chapter, but the internal sub-sections of topics seems to just...shift. We'd have a few paragraphs about e.g. body donation, then suddenly we're talking "deck slap." It all fits within the overall chapter, but there wasn't really internal flow beyond that. I guess I prefer that to stilted transitions trying to force a connection, but it was still something that stood out to me pretty early on.

Also-- and this is totally nitpicky, and maybe an ARC thing-- but the images at the start of each chapter weren't doing it for me. Typical Roach book goes like this: you finish a chapter, turn the page, encounter some strange photograph that seems a little absurd and whimsical but foreshadows the topic of the succeeding chapter; turn the page again, and start the chapter. Grunt places the images on the same page as the chapter heading, and opposite the first page of the chapter. I missed that sort of meditative moment of pondering the out-of-context image before diving in again. Also, the images selected for this book were sort of boring. Guy poking his head out of a tank? Not even a funny moustache or dog to liven it up. Anatomical figure chasing another anatomical figure? Yawn.

Pretty minor things! I learned a lot, and I felt like I could trace some of her research here back to stuff she must have found out while researching Stiff, Bonk, and probably Gulp. I feel like an opportunity was lost to do a little cross-promotion to those who might have read those yet! I was suitably grossed out at times, but still laughed out loud a few times, too. Coworkers and family got to hear all kinds of things over the few days I was breezing through this work. Good times!

Oh, one other disappointment, less minor, chronologically speaking: surprisingly few citations at the end. A few chapters only had 1 or 2 articles cited, and I really hope it was more of a "selected works, most likely to be interesting/accessible to the everyday reader" and not meant to be a thorough references list. : That would be disappointing.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

288 p.; 5.1 inches


1786070898 / 9781786070890
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