Grunt by Mary Roach

Many thanks to W.W. Norton & Co for approving my NetGalley request! I promise these thoughts are my own, etc etc.

Mary Roach has a new book out today, and this time she’s dissecting the science of being a soldier. My husband is in the ARNG, so I had some personal interest in seeing what kind of insight and weirdness Mary could dig up.

The first half of the book was pretty strong. Mary talks about some of the details of military life that we don’t think of that often – for example, the balancing act of trying to protect soldiers from hearing loss without compromising their situational awareness. She spends some time on uniforms and the constant struggle to find materials with all the right properties – though I was slightly bummed she didn’t mention Alexander Hamilton’s role in forcing matching uniforms on US soldiers and how he was neurotic about buttons. And there were a couple chapters spent on injuries and loss of body parts, which led to phalloplasty and penis transplants, and the honeyman did NOT seem to enjoy me reading parts of that section out loud to him. But it was interesting! And that led to the question of whether soldiers should save some sperm before deploying, just in case, and if that should be their choice or a requirement, and the money and logistics that would go into that. GOOD QUESTIONS.

I started to get bored in the second half. I feel like there was way too much time spent on the scientific research the military has done on shark repellent. I have a hard time imaging that this is still a major issue. And I wasn’t super enamored with the research into weaponized stinky smells either. The second half almost seemed to move away from things that really affect the day-to-day lives of current soldiers and more into the “hey did you know this this is weird” realm. I know Mary Roach lives in that realm, but I found the more practical stuff so much more fascinating. Also, I noticed in this book how often she really reached to make a pun or tacky joke. That was kind of distracting.

And as a side thing – I feel like Mary’s books are best read in print. I read this on my Kindle (because e-galley, thanks again!) but the footnotes, often one of the best parts of her books, are at the end of the chapters instead of at the bottom of the page. Yeah, I’m not clicking on the little thingy to go to the end of the chapter to read the footnote and then finding my way back to the spot I was at. Not here for that. Come on technology, we can do better than that.

Anyways, this is worth the read. We should all really be more aware of the problems that soldiers face, and Grunt does a great job at giving you a peek at those.

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6 comments

  1. Ahhhh, frack! I hadn’t thought about the footnotes being pushed to the end on the digital version. Ugh, ugh. The first half definitely sounds more interesting than the latter half. We’ll see how it goes. I love Roach in theory, but to date I’ve only read Stiff in full.

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  2. Dude, can I say, the functionality of endnotes is one of my favorite things about ereaders, but when the notes are footnotes, it’s way less convenient and fun. It’s fantastic, though, when it’s more scholarly nonfiction and the references are in endnote form, because if the book were print I’d have to be constantly paging back and forth, and that is a hassle.

    I am actually pretty interested in shark repellents, also. :p

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    1. I love when the notes are at the bottom of the page. But dude if it’s at the end of the chapter or the book yeah I’m not flipping around for that.

      The shark repellent stuff is just so odd to me… like, are we trying to find lion repellents and scorpion repellents and stuff to repel all of of the scary animals that would kill us?? Why just sharks?

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  3. The hearing loss thing, I never even CONSIDERED it. And then when they talked about issuing ear plugs I was thinking “OH YEAH they should do that.” And then they pointed out why that’s a bad idea and man, nothing is ever easy.

    I was a bigger fan of the stinky smells part, but I’ve totally used some of the things she talked about there and yeah, they are EXTRA GROSS and I was yelled at for opening skatole not under a fume hood. So yeah. Whoops.

    (One quick thing I eventually learned with the footnotes, at least on my Kindle, if you move the curser down to the footnote number and click enter, it brings you to the note. Click back and it brings you back to the page you were last on)

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    1. I will try that on my Kindle! I click the number and it brings me to the note but I don’t think it’s ever brought me back to my spot. But it’s also been ages since I tried, so maybe that fixed that since I last attempted?

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