The best books to friend your body’s marvelous machines

Roy A. Meals Author Of Muscle: The Gripping Story of Strength and Movement
By Roy A. Meals

Who am I?

I've been in love with biology since first playing with earthworms and marveling at the sprouting of radish seeds as a five-year-old. Further interest and curiosity led me to positions as nature counselor at summer camps and an eventual college degree in biology. Medical school was at times tedious, but the efficient, compact, durable mechanics of the musculoskeletal system totally engaged my interest. A residency in orthopedic surgery and a fellowship in hand surgery were natural follow-ons. My other passion is a love of teaching, taking a learner from where ever their understanding is presently and guiding them to what they need to know next. And they should have fun in the process.

I wrote...

Muscle: The Gripping Story of Strength and Movement

By Roy A. Meals,

Book cover of Muscle: The Gripping Story of Strength and Movement

What is my book about?

Muscles power every heartbeat, blink, jump, and goosebump. They power digestion, childbirth, and extreme feats of athleticism. We can condition our muscles with exercise and observe the results, not so with other tissues.

In this lively, lucid book, Meals, an orthopedic surgeon, takes us on a journey through anatomy, biology, history, popular culture, and health to reveal muscle’s marvels. He explores major advances in medicine and fitness, including cutting-edge gene-editing research and the science behind popular muscle conditioning strategies. Meals notes the changing aesthetic and cultural conception of muscle, from Michelangelo’s David to present-day bodybuilders, and shares fascinating examples of strange muscular maladies and their treatment. Brimming with fun facts and infectious enthusiasm, Muscle sheds light on the astonishing, essential tissue. Let’s get moving.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Remarkable Life of the Skin: An Intimate Journey Across Our Largest Organ

Why did I love this book?

Although skin is highly visible and a good indicator of health, habits, and age, its complexity and significance for overall health are often overlooked. Dermatologist, historian, and world traveler, Lyman demystifies the body’s largest organ.

He explains commonly encountered conditions such as blushing, goosebumps, and itching. With engaging stories, Lyman also informs about rarely encountered conditions, past and present, that illustrate the amazing capacity of the skin to fend off infection, dehydration, and other perils of the outside world as well as assaults from within.

Additionally, skin is rich with social and psychological significance. You will be compelled to take better care of your body’s wrapping having read the book. 

By Monty Lyman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Remarkable Life of the Skin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

- Shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize 2019
- A Sunday Times 'MUST READ'
- 'An exciting introduction to a little-known microscopic universe.' Sunday Times
- 'A seriously entertaining book.' Melanie Reid, The Times
- As read on RADIO 4's BOOK OF THE WEEK

How does our diet affect our skin? What makes the skin age? And why can't we tickle ourselves?

Providing a cover for our delicate and intricate bodies, the skin is our largest, fastest growing and yet least understood organ. We see it, touch it and live in it every day. It's a habitat…

Book cover of The Body: A Guide for Occupants

Why did I love this book?

Now turning to the human body, Bryson continues his long tradition of combining loads of engaging, thoroughly researched information with ironic humor.

He dissects his subject system by system, starting with the normal structure and function of the skin and eventually moving to the “nether regions.” He follows with chapters on what can go wrong and what can go very wrong. Whereas other books focus on single systems, e.g., skeleton or gut, The Body is broader in its scope but understandably not so thorough.

For a single book to heighten a reader’s marvel and understanding of the human workings, this is the one.  

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Bill Bryson, bestselling author of A Short History of Nearly Everything, takes us on a head-to-toe tour of the marvel that is the human body—with a new afterword for this edition.

Bill Bryson once again proves himself to be an incomparable companion as he guides us through the human body—how it functions, its remarkable ability to heal itself, and (unfortunately) the ways it can fail. Full of extraordinary facts (your body made a million red blood cells since you started reading this) and irresistible Brysonesque anecdotes, The Body will lead you to a deeper understanding…

Book cover of Pump: A Natural History of the Heart

Why did I love this book?

Since zoologist Bill Schutt previously wrote the very popular Cannibalism, A Perfectly Natural History, you might expect that his more recent expose of the heart would be equally wide-ranging, engaging, and touched with macabre. It is.

With clarity and wit, Schutt describes circulation from worms to bats to whales along with the curious adaptations that explain why frog hearts can freeze solid and resume function and why the blood of horseshoe crabs is favored by researchers. Schutt not only describes this living pump across the animal kingdom but also through time as philosophers and scientists have pondered, and eventually discovered, its true function.

If you have an interest in biology, history of science, or your own inner workings, Pump will make your heart throb.

By Bill Schutt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pump as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Fascinating . . . Surprising entertainment, combining deep learning with dad jokes . . . [Schutt] is a natural teacher with an easy way with metaphor.”—The Wall Street Journal

In this lively, unexpected look at the hearts of animals—from fish to bats to humans—American Museum of Natural History zoologist Bill Schutt tells an incredible story of evolution and scientific progress.

We join Schutt on a tour from the origins of circulation, still evident in microorganisms today, to the tiny hardworking pumps of worms, to the golf-cart-size hearts of blue whales. We visit beaches where horseshoe crabs are being harvested for…

Book cover of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Why did I love this book?

Should bookstores shelve Gulp in the Humor section or the Science section? Both.

With her usual comedic and eclectic approach to her subject, Roach ranges and rages through our digestive system end to end. She mixes plenty of real science with quirky and unexpected diversions headlined by chapter titles such as "Dead Man’s Bloat and Other Tales from the History of Flatulence Research"; "Up Theirs, The Alimentary Canal as Criminal Accomplice"; and "Stuffed, The Science of Eating Yourself to Death".

It’s informative. It’s fun. Worthy of digestion.

By Mary Roach,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Gulp as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"America's funniest science writer" (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavors and smells? Why doesn't the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? In Gulp we meet…

Book cover of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Why did I love this book?

Any author who voluntarily has his nose packed and totally obstructed for over a week attracts my awe as one who is committed to walking the walk of his subject.

Nestor’s descriptions of this experience and the immense joy he encounters when his nasal airways were unblocked and his sense of smell restored sets the stage for an engaging tour through the science and art of a vital bodily function that we mostly ignore—respiration.

He posits that humans have been ignoring breath for centuries at our detriment and which accounts for sleep apnea, snoring, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. He poses means of relief. What a fresh breath.    

By James Nestor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Breath as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'Who would have thought something as simple as changing the way we breathe could be so revolutionary for our health, from snoring to allergies to immunity? A fascinating book, full of dazzling revelations' Dr Rangan Chatterjee

There is nothing more essential to our health and wellbeing than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences. In Breath, journalist James Nestor travels the world…

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