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Lots of tidbits in The Body: A Guide for Occupants

In the 16th Century, scientists who were studying the human anatomy did not have the easiest time finding specimens to work with.

Take the Belgian anatomist Gabriele Falloppio, the fellow the Fallopian tubes are named after. He went to the authorities to see if the had a body he could use, and they gave him a condemned criminal, still alive, who he was allowed to put down in the way which best suited his purposes.

Apparently Falloppio and the criminal decided together on a deadly cocktail to make the death painless with no harm to the body.

This is just one of the almost throw-away stories I have already discovered in Bill Bryson’s latest book, The Body: A Guide for Occupants. I expected nothing less from Bryson, who has been my guide on a couple of other literary excursions. I have previously enjoyed A Short History of Nearly Everything and At Home: A Short History of Private Life. In all of these books, Bryson manages to educate you at a fairly light level on the subject, which dropping in stories like the one on Falloppio, which I think I may remember long after I have forgotten most of the “important” stuff in the book.

He has written travel stories on his adventures in both the United States and Britain, but I don’t find those quite as interesting for some reason.

Where I was introduced to Bryson, though, was some years ago, when I was working at the Free Press. I came across a small book one day titled Troublesome Words, flipped through it and fell in love.

It was short pieces about, well, troublesome words in the English language and how to get them right (at least according to Bryson. The one entry I found particularly charming and bang-on-the-mark was the one on ‘barbecue’. It read, quite simply, “Any journalist or other formal user of English who believes the word is spelled ‘barbeque’ or, worse still, ‘bar-b-q’ is not ready for unsupervised employment.”

I then discovered two other works of his on the development of the English language (as in British) and the American language and thoroughly enjoyed both.

I expect I will find many other delightful little off-the-cuff stories before I finish Our Body, and I am quite looking forward to all of them.

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