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Reviewed: The Body – A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

A user manual for the body peppered with the wit and superb observation we’ve come to expect from Bryson.


For The Body: A Guide for Occupants, the American – British author Bill Bryson gives another master class in simplifying the somewhat inexplicable as he did in A Short History of Nearly Everything. This non-fiction work is an owner’s manual of sorts for any person wanting to better understand and appreciate their body and the complex functions that interact to make us who we are.

Mr Bryson is well known for his witty and well-researched explorations of non-fiction topics. His works ranging from science to history are all entertaining while still informative, and this book is no exception. In it he gives numerous inspiring examples of our incredible functionality, which read more like a brilliant work of mysterious fiction than what would otherwise qualify as a manual. 

“We pass our existence within this wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted.”

Quizzically, he explains an unusual task undertaken by the Royal Society of Chemistry to estimate the specific cost of ‘building’ the actor Benedict Cumberbatch. This oddity alone had me hooked, and I knew I’d be turning the pages till the very last. Why the curiosity with rebuilding a body? It’s a starting point to exploring the mysteries that exist beyond the building blocks.

“…the only thing special about the elements that make you is that they make you. That’s the miracle of life”

He ventures into an exploration of microbes and the important function they play in our daily lives and wellness. I found this particularly interesting given the recent focus on gut health and the link to mental health. Next he weaves an intricate thread from one organ and functionality to the next making room for science as well as wonder. He explores the majesty and mystery of the brain, the heart, the hormones, our bones and how our upright status has its downside for procreation. He then touches on one of my favourite topics, sleep, and the issues of disease and even death.

Why you should read it

This book will satisfy lovers of history, science, sociology, and spirituality alike. It is easy to take our health and abilities for granted when we are younger. As we age we tend to have a a greater appreciation for our bodies, and I think this book can help with some of that realisation. It serves as a reminder of the incredible combination of functions and complications that come together to make us work. Instead of aging with trepidation, we can do it with a sense of renewed awe and gratitude for how incredible our bodies are. I thoroughly recommend this head-to-toe tour of your bodies, which Bill Bryson so expertly guides using both anecdotes and facts in an entertaining mix. In the end, he leaves us with the distinct sense that our existence is simply astonishing.

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Amazon rating at time of publishing 4.7
Goodreads rating at time of publishing 4.3
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Johann is the founding partner of Reset Retirement where we focus on assisting people with planning for the non-financial aspects of their lives after full-time work. He had a long career in executive search and leadership as the founding partner and chairman of Heidrick & Struggles in South Africa where he was the head of the company’s board practice.


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Gain renewed appreciation for the awesome vessel that is your body.Reviewed: The Body - A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson