“Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War” by Mary Roach – A review

Grunt- The Curious Science of Humans at War Mary Roach

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War” is one of the best-selling books developed on the curiosity of Mary Roach. She has also written books (curiosities) including “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” – a best-seller having hilarious exploration of human cadavers. The book, a kind of investigative journalism, has humorously and compassionately described the world of military scientists and their struggle to make every combat more survivable for fighters and soldiers.

The book is not a compilation of tactics, strategies, honors, and armaments associated with war, but it is related to exhaustion, microbes, heat, shock and panic attacks. It tells about the details scientists can go to decrease the horror of wars. The author has described about the historical conditions spawning specific areas of research. Before the completion of the book, the author visited the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and found the reason why zipper could be a problematic thing for a sniper. She also visited repurposed movie studio, where actors help in learning to deal with different situations. Her account at Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, shows how diarrhea can become a threat for national security. The author also tested caffeinated meat and sniffed a sample of a World War II stink bomb.

Chickens (Image source: CDC)
Chickens (Image source: CDC)

She has told about apparently absurd experiments and tests in the book that could help in bringing back soldiers alive. For example, experiments related to the study of body odors during stressful conditions, and the use of maggots to heal wounds. She has also discussed the chicken gun, a cannon having 60ft barrel with an ability to fire chickens at fighter planes to check the damage caused to the planes while being interacted by birds during a flight. However, the presentation of all these things is very interesting as, for example, Roach notes that chickens can’t fly like other birds, so these are more “like a flung grocery item” rather than flying birds.

Button on military uniforms (Image source: usa.gov)
Button on military uniforms (Image source: usa.gov)

In “Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War”, the author has tried to remove popular misconceptions and provided odd bits of trivia. She finds that bears like the taste of used tampons, and sharks are not specifically attracted towards human blood. The author has also described various other interesting experiments and some of them are in pretty much detail as, for example, the rules about buttons on military uniforms are covering about 22 pages of the book. She also describes the work on hearing. In this way, Roach has also tried to describe the strange ways in which human beings keep on experimenting and solving problems.

Shark (Image source: swfsc.noaa.gov)
Shark (Image source: swfsc.noaa.gov)

The author has described some difficult topics in sufficiently understandable manner. Some of the chapters of the book are more effective as compared to others. For example, chapter 10 on smell is found to be less effective. On the other hand, some chapters are more hilarious as, for example, chapter 11 describing the story of a failed attempt to develop shark repellant is more amusing as well as disturbing as compared to other chapters. In the same way, the chapter on combat medic training is presented in a very entertaining and humorous way.

Critically speaking, “Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War” has not discussed some very important topics in much detail. As told earlier, some chapters are not effective and that is probably due to poor editing and hastily developed story. The author has covered fourteen subjects but those subjects often look like a collection of magazine articles. Moreover, some of the chapters are not easily relatable to anyone, and some chapters such as chapters on odors and flies have military terms making them somewhat difficult to understand.

Overall, the curiosity of Roach is developing curiosity in many readers, on one hand, and on the other hand, it is quenching their thirst (curiosity) of the science associated with war.

Usman Zafar Paracha

Usman Zafar Paracha is Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutics, in Hajvery University, Lahore, Pakistan.