Science & Technology

These 5 Books Will Tell You All You Need to Know About Your Body

There's this tendency to think of yourself as a brain riding around in a body — philosophers have certainly been doing it for long enough. But really, your brain is your body, or at least, a part of it. The way that our bodies work plays a pretty big role in how we get around the world, how our society functions, and, well, basically everything else about human existence. These five books can help you get reacquainted with the physical, social, and evolutionary surprises hiding in your cells.

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Related: 10 Mysteries of the Human Body

The Brain

"The Brain: The Story of You" by David Eagleman

The brain is somehow the most and least visible part of the human body. In a literal sense, you are hardly ever going to actually see somebody's brain (unless they're having a very bad day). But in another sense, it's kind of the only part of your own body you ever experience. In this 2015 book, David Eagleman explores brain surgery, the nature of decision-making, and the surprising ways technology is changing our brains.

The Heart

"Heart: A History" by Sandeep Jauhar

Sandeep Jauhar is both a bestselling author and a heart surgeon. In other words, the perfect candidate to write this brand-new book. It's an incredible story — one that encompasses ancient conceptions of the heart as the seat of the soul, the black doctor who performed the world's first open-heart surgery, and the accidental invention of the pacemaker. Throughout, he also tells personal stories from his own career in medicine (which you can also read about in his books "Doctored" and "Intern: A Doctor's Initiation").

The Digestive System

"Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal" by Mary Roach

The one-and-only Mary Roach returns to what she does best: taking a subject that's slightly icky and making it both funny and fascinating. What she did for death in "Stiff" she does for the gut in "Gulp." But it's about more than just the thriving microbiome of bacteria that dwell in your stomach. She covers both, ahem, ends of the path that starts with your mouth and ends down south. Ever wonder why crunchy food is so satisfying? Why your stomach doesn't digest itself? What really killed Elvis? You'll find out.

The Skeleton

"Skeletons: The Frame of Life" by Jan Zalasiewicz

Worms don't have them. Slugs don't have them. Bugs do, but they wear theirs on the outside. In Jan Zalasiewicz's "Skeletons," you'll learn about the very first animals to develop sturdy support structures for their soft bits. It was a pretty momentous development. They're the first animals to make their mark on the fossil record, for example, and their tiny shells are still made into chalk to this day. They're also the reason why the white cliffs of Dover are so white. You'll even learn about the world's largest skeleton — trust us, it's not what you expect.

The Body

"The Story of the Human Body" by David Lieberman

What the other books in this list don't cover, this book does. How did our ancestors become bipedal, give up an all-fruit diet, and develop the most inventive minds on the planet? How did the agricultural and industrial revolutions change our bodies even more? Why is it that our lives are getting longer but our diseases are becoming more ubiquitous? And finally, what does the future hold for the human body? As Harvard's chair of the department of human evolutionary biology, Lieberman is perfectly positioned to answer those questions and more.

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Written by Reuben Westmaas September 21, 2018

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