The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson


Goodreads: The Body: A Guide for Occupants
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: October 15, 2019

Official Summary

In the bestselling, prize-winning A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson achieved the seemingly impossible by making the science of our world both understandable and entertaining to millions of people around the globe.

Now he turns his attention inwards to explore the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself. Full of extraordinary facts and astonishing stories, The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a brilliant, often very funny attempt to understand the miracle of our physical and neurological make up.

A wonderful successor to A Short History of Nearly Everything, this book will have you marvelling at the form you occupy, and celebrating the genius of your existence, time and time again.

Star Divider


The Body by Bill Bryson is an excellent overview of the human body, the amazing things it can do,  as well as some of its quirks.  Bryson employs his typical approachable (and occasionally humorous) style to make the book engaging and accessible to the average reader, which makes learning—or relearning—biology facts fun.

Because the book touches on a large number of topics, ranging from the brain to the nervous system to diseases and sleep, Bryson does have to include only what he believes to be the most important or interesting information, which can be a bit disappointing if the topic is something the reader does know a lot about.  For example, I read an entire book on sleep this year, which made Bryson’s chapter pale in comparison, and while I was happy to see Bryson mention things like the differences between how medicine works in men and women (and how 80% of medications are tested only on men), I learned much more about this topic from Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women.  This is all to say that if you’re some sort of biology/anatomy fan, the book might not work as well for you as it would for a reader who wants an introduction to a little bit of everything.

The organization of the book was also a bit baffling to me.  Broadly, Bryson seems to start near the top of the body and go down, but as mentioned previously, he diverts into subjects like “sleep” and “diseases” that are not necessarily tied to a single body part.  This made it a bit difficult for me to see the cohesiveness of the book (besides the fact that everything was related to “the body”), and I often had no idea where I was in the book (partially, too, because I read the ebook, and there aren’t clear visual indicators that “you’re halfway through” or whatever).  The book felt long to me at times, though most of it was actually interesting.

And Bryson really shines when he moves beyond, say, naming parts of the ear to discuss topics that will be extremely applicable to readers.  Of course the book has the necessary fun and weird anecdotes about scientists, people with interesting medical experiences, etc. that one expects in a pop science book to liven it up, but Bryson also touches on very serious issues like growing antibiotic resistance (and how few pharmaceutical companies have any incentive to develop new antibiotics that will actually work).  These are the moments that make the book memorable—and sometimes a bit scary.

Bryson’s work is generally popular, and The Body is receiving well-deserved attention for making the body interesting and approachable.  If you like pop science, this is work looking into.

3 Stars

2 thoughts on “The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

  1. DoingDewey says:

    The only book by Bryson that I’ve read is A Short History of Nearly Everything and I think my reaction was similar to yours with this book. I’ve already read a lot of natural history, so it felt a bit shallow and full of information I’d already read elsewhere. I also found his writing a bit dry, but that might have been due to listening to this as an audiobook.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, I think he does interesting overviews, but that means his target audience is definitely a specific type of reader. I can also see his style being hit-or-miss. Sometimes he seems to think he’s being a bit funny, and I don’t always agree!


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