Cover image for Grunt : the curious science of humans at war
Title:
Grunt : the curious science of humans at war
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2016]

©2016
ISBN:
9780393245448
Physical Description:
285 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Language:
English
Contents:
Second skin : what to wear to war -- Boom box : automotive safety for people who drive on bomb -- Fighting by ear : the conundrum of military noise -- Below the belt : the cruelest shot of all -- It could get weird: a salute to genital transplants -- Carnage under fire : how do combat medics cope? -- Sweating bullets : the war on heat -- Leaky SEALs : diarrhea as a threat to national security -- The maggot paradox : flies on the battlefield, for better and worse -- What doesn't kill you will make you reek : a brief history of stink bombs -- Old chum : how to make and test shark repellent -- That sinking feeling : when things go wrong under the sea -- Up and under : a submarine tries to sleep -- Feedback from the fallen : how the dead help the living stay that way.
Abstract:
Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries?panic, exhaustion, heat, noise?and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you?ll never see our nation?s defenders in the same way again.
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Book 355 ROA 1 .SOURCE. BAKER & TAYLOR
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Summary

Summary

Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries--panic, exhaustion, heat, noise--and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you'll never see our nation's defenders in the same way again.


Reviews 7

Publisher's Weekly Review

It's a surprisingly difficult task to narrate Roach's writing, because it's serious science but also whimsical fun. But Elvidge matches the two aspects perfectly, balancing the informative and the playful in a way that captures Roach's innate knack for edutaintment. The actress is a relative newcomer to audiobooks, narrating over a dozen credited ones in the last few years, primarily in nonfiction, YA, and memoir. Her bright, high vocal tone brings an inquisitive sensibility to the book. It's clear she is enjoying the fruits of Roach's research-following the scientific discoveries that help soldiers withstand extreme weather, combat exhaustion, and severe injury (even if it means cleaning out necrotic tissue via "medical maggots"). Elvidge sounds as curious and excited about the findings as Roach herself, always ready to volunteer one of Roach's many witty zingers to keep things lively. A Norton hardcover. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Roach is a rare literary bird, a best-selling science writer, and her irresistible if often unnerving subject is the human body and how it reacts to all that we put it through, from eating (Gulp, 2013) to sex (Bonk, 2008), space travel (Packing for Mars, 2010), and, in her latest, war. Roach avidly and impishly infiltrates the world of military science to discover what measures are taken to protect combatants against perils ranging from bomb blasts to food poisoning to sleep deprivation. Roach's unerring instinct for astounding stories and her delight in sketching quick and vivid portraits enliven every page as she delves into military history, presents eye-popping facts, conducts interviews under chaotic circumstances, and offers herself up as a participant in medical studies involving the military's attempts to minimize the threats of noise, heat, germs, and panic. Roach gamely participates in a combat trauma-management course for future medics in a former movie studio, witnesses penile reconstructive surgery, talks to special operators in Camp Lemmonnier in Djibouti about the hazards of diarrhea, learns about maggot therapy and stink bombs, and spends a night in a nuclear submarine. As in her previous adventurous inquiries, Roach is exuberantly and imaginatively informative and irreverently funny, but she is also in awe of the accomplished and committed military people she meets, a feeling readers will share. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Roach's renown and readership grows with each book, and her newest will be promoted via early outreach, lots of media, and a national author tour.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2016 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

Whether you classify her as an investigative humorist or a funny reporter, Mary Roach is an author with a formula: She tackles a subject that, to many a layperson, is forbiddingly icky (to use the clinical term), conducts loads of research and interviews, and then relates her findings in a series of conversational, disarming dispatches that don't read like typical, stock-serious science writing. This formula, complemented by an equally formulaic approach to titling, has served her well in such entertaining books as "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex" and "Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal." With the American military entangled in seemingly unending missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's an apposite time for Roach to apply her template to, as the subtitle of "Grunt" puts it, the curious science of humans at war: the ever greater number of measures taken and experiments conducted in the cause of keeping our troops comfortable, alive, and physically and mentally well - both in the field and back home. As in previous installments of the Roach canon, "Grunt" revels in fixing our readerly gaze upon sights that we would otherwise be inclined to turn away from: Special-Ops guys struggling with diarrhea while on dangerous patrols (a serious issue that military scientists are working to alleviate); a Walter Reed doctor keen to deploy live, hungry "medical maggots" to hygienically clean out soldiers' wounds; returning vets who have lost their genitals to enemy fire or I.E.D.s and have been wheeled into operating rooms for phalloplasty, which Roach describes as "a penis reconstruction made from a cannoli roll of their own forearm skin implanted with saline-inflatable rods." Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with writing about the wages of war with irreverence and gallows humor, as such authors as Ben Fountain, in his novel "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," and Phil Klay, in his story collection "Redeployment," have demonstrated. The big, frustrating problem with "Grunt" is not that Roach is insufficiently respectful of the brave young men and women who serve our country. Rather, it's that, too often, she is insufficiently respectful of her own material, showing a greater interest in racing to her next zinger than in exploring more deeply the implications of the subjects she is writing about. The bit above about phalloplasty? Here's what follows: "The resulting ?neopenis' is impressively natural looking," she writes. The photographs on the surgeon's phone "could be mistaken for Anthony Weiner-style selfies." And in one of the book's many discursive, David Foster Wallace-lite footnotes, an Air Force scientist discusses a notion that he considered and then abandoned, to spray enemy positions with a chemical aphrodisiac that would instill in the bad guys a fear that "their buddy is going to come in their foxhole and make fond advances." To which Roach adds, with a nightclub leer, "And come in their foxhole." C'mon, really? THERE'S TOO MUCH juvenile snickering of this sort in "Grunt." Wisecracks are a given in a Mary Roach book, but this is the first Mary Roach book in which the ratio of quip-page to reportage has gotten out of whack. Which is a shame, because the topics she has chosen to explore are worthy of more considered contemplation. The therapeutic value of sexual rehabilitation, for example, is only just beginning to be grasped by the military brass. When Roach asks a Walter Reed nurse manager named Christine DesLauriers what the divorce rate is for returning soldiers who have suffered genital loss or damage, the reply is brutal: "Divorce rate? How about suicide rate. And what a shame to lose them after they've made it back. We keep them alive, but we don't teach them how to live." Yet DesLauriers quickly vanishes from "Grunt" after a few pages, just when you're wanting to hear more about how she and her colleagues, confronted with limited resources and squeamish higher-ups, are facing up to this challenge. In her introduction, Roach offers a sort of pre-emptive apologia for her glib approach, asserting that she is not a "spotlight operator," here to take on big, obvious issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, but is, rather, "the goober with a flashlight, stumbling into corners and crannies, not looking for anything specific but knowing when I've found it." It sounds fun if you put it that way, but in practice, "Grunt" is a slapdash book, with no coherent organizing principle beyond its subtitle. In one stretch, it zooms unpredictably from the diarrhea chapter to the maggot chapter to chapters on the government's continuing development of nonlethal stink bombs designed to disperse violent mobs (Roach visits a defense contractor that created a repugnant, effective mixture called Stench Soup); the Navy's World War II-era efforts to develop shark repellent for the Pacific theater; and the methods by which sailors train for submarine escapes. There are bite-size moments of insight to be found in "Grunt" - the shark-repellent chapter reveals that, contrary to popular belief, sharks are not innately drawn to the scent of human blood, though, alarmingly, polar bears are drawn to the scent of menstruating women - but Roach, for all her enterprise in visiting military labs and bases from New England to Djibouti, is mostly content to hang around each locale only long enough to paint a small picture and crack a few jokes. Perhaps it's time to rethink the formula Roach has a proven gift for connecting with readers who are not normally into science, through levity and accessible, cleareyed prose - neither of which precludes her from doing weightier work. Maybe she should double down on a sustained, single-topic narrative next time, and stop playing the goober. DAVID KAMP is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair.


Choice Review

Roach, an accomplished author, has tapped into the expertise of hundreds of scientists, researchers, engineers, nurses, doctors, soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen to gather and distill the fascinating efforts these individuals (and many others) are making to support and enhance the abilities of our military personnel. Although this book is presented as an examination of these many efforts, it is also about the highly motivated and extremely talented people who make these efforts tangible and real, people such as Nicole Brockhoff (Army Research Laboratory), who works on improving defenses against improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Christine DesLauriers, a nurse at Walter Reed Medical Center who cares for those who have lost limbs, and US Navy Chief Alan Hough, Navy Damage Controlman, who trains sailors to keep their ships and submarines afloat. Faced every day with extreme heat, exhaustion, noise, fatigue, stress, IEDs, and many other challenges, soldiers, sailors, and Marines depend on behind-the-scenes efforts to keep them functioning and successful. From Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti to Camp Pendleton in California, there is a constant and unending effort to keep our military intact, awake, sane, uninfected, and operationally effective. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. --Michael W. Carr, US Army Watercraft & Riverine Operations


School Library Journal Review

Roach does it again. Amid all the debates about the military-industrial complex in our country, its impact on medicine, invention, and other scientific pursuits is often overlooked. Roach interviews those in science-related military careers, employing her cockeyed sense of humor and awing readers with what she uncovers. (http://ow.ly/PN4C305MyAa)-Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus Review

A cannon fires grocery chickens at parked jets, testing ways to protect planes against bird strikes. Readers encountering this esoteric project on the first page will settle back to enjoy another patented scientific romp, this one on battlefield research, by journalist Roach (Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, 2013, etc.)."For every general and Medal of Honor winner," writes the author, "there are a hundred military scientists whose names you'll never hear. The work I write about represents a fraction of a percent of all that goes on. I have omitted whole disciplines of worthy endeavor." Roach reveals many of these names, however, along with the stories of their quests to shield soldiers from harm and, if this fails, repair the often gruesome results. Traveling from proving ground to lab to expensive, realistic fake battle settings, the author recounts and often participates as researchers search for better ways to protect soldiers from bullets, burns, explosions, noise, heat, sharks, insomnia, drowning, and disease. If all fails, the military wants to correct the consequences with better prostheses and surgical reconstructions of mutilated or missing body parts. Roach joins Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Levitt in making a career of turning serious research on oddball subjects into bestsellers. But while Gladwell and Levitt aim to stimulate readers with unusual connections among subjects, Roach, the author of Stiff and Bonk, is mostly seeking laughs. She restrains herself when it's inappropriate (an admirable chapter on repairing damaged penises) but never resists easy targets (blast-resistant underwear, the macho approach to diarrhea) and works hard to find humor wherever she turns. When material runs thin, the author inserts breezy anecdotes, descriptions of her surroundings, the scientists' physiognomy, and the sufferings of a journalist willing to try anything. Battlefield RD is a topic too fascinating to ruin, so readers who can tolerate the author's relentless flippancy will not regret the experience. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

In her latest effort, Roach (Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal) investigates the science of the U.S. military. She studies sleep deprivation in nuclear submarines, smells stink bombs used in World War II, and views shark repellent research designed to help conquer sailors' and pilots' fear of being eaten alive. Roach herself is on-site to ask military scientists, Navy SEALs, submariners, generals, and soldiers (grunts) about the seemingly small issues that can affect major operations, such as diarrhea for snipers or poor hearing during combat situations. She concludes the book with a visit to the official meeting of military staff and medics who examine each death of U.S. service personnel in combat zones. Roach deploys her distinctive, self-deprecating, humorous style in each of these interactions and asks common-sense questions listeners might wish to ask the experts. Narrator Abby -Elvidge has a wry reading style that matches Roach's text. VERDICT Fans of Roach's previous titles will be rewarded, and fans of the military, especially military science, will learn a lot. Highly recommended. ["A must-read for fans of Roach and for those who relish learning about the secret histories of everyday things": LJ 5/1/16 starred review of the Norton hc.]-Jason L. Steagall, Gateway -Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

By Way of Introductionp. 13
1 Second Skinp. 18
What to wear to war
2 Boom Boxp. 40
Automotive safety for people who drive on bombs
3 Fighting By Earp. 56
The conundrum of military noise
4 Below the Beltp. 72
The cruelest shot of all
5 It Could Get Weirdp. 88
A salute to genital transplants
6 Carnage Under Firep. 104
How do combat medics cope?
7 Sweating Bulletsp. 124
The war on heat
8 Leaky Sealsp. 142
Diarrhea as a threat to national security
9 The Maggot Paradoxp. 164
Flies on the battlefield, for better and worse
10 What Doesn't Kill You Will Make You Reekp. 184
A brief history of stink bombs
11 Old Chump. 202
How to make and test shark repellent
12 That Sinking Feelingp. 222
When things go wrong under the sea
13 Up and Underp. 242
A submarine tries to sleep
14 Feedback From the Fallenp. 264
How the dead help the living stay that way
Acknowledgmentsp. 273
Bibliographyp. 277