Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Gulp Mary Roach

Rating: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

In 1968, on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, six young men undertook an irregular and unprecedented act.

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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 scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of–or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists–who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts. Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies

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Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar

Dead Mountain Dyatlov Pass Incident

Rating: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆

Two figures trudge across a snowy expanse.

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In February 1959, a group of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains died mysteriously on an elevation known as Dead Mountain. Eerie aspects of the incident—unexplained violent injuries, signs that they cut open and fled the tent without proper clothing or shoes, a strange final photograph taken by one of the hikers, and elevated levels of radiation found on some of their clothes—have led to decades of speculation over what really happened.

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The Call of the Weird by Louis Theroux

The Call of the Weird Louis Theroux

Rating: 2 Stars ★★☆☆☆

One cold December day in 1996, I met up with an elderly racist leader named Pastor Richard Butler.

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No, it doesn’t get much weirder than this: Thor Templar, Lord Commander of the Earth Protectorate, who claims to have killed ten aliens. Or April, the Neo-Nazi bringing up her twin daughters Lamb and Lynx (who have just formed a white-power folk group for kids called Prussian Blue), and her youngest daughter, Dresden. For a decade now, Louis Theroux has been making programs about offbeat characters on the fringes of U.S. society. Now he revisits the people who have most intrigued him to try to discover what motivates them, and why they believe the things they believe. From his Las Vegas base (where else?), Theroux calls on these assorted dreamers, schemers, and outlaws–and in the process finds out a little about the workings of his own mind. What does it mean, after all, to be weird, or “to be yourself”? Do we choose our beliefs or do our beliefs choose us? And is there something particularly weird about Americans?

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Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid

Forensics The Anatomy of Crime

Rating: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

The face of justice we know today has not always been judicious.

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The dead talk—to the right listener. They can tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died, and, of course, who killed them. Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces. Forensics draws on interviews with some of these top-level professionals, ground-breaking research, and McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists.

Along the way, McDermid discovers how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine one’s time of death; how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer; and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist were able to uncover the victims of a genocide. It’s a journey that will take McDermid to war zones, fire scenes, and autopsy suites, and bring her into contact with both extraordinary bravery and wickedness, as she traces the history of forensics from its earliest beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.

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The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

The Lost City of the Monkey God Douglas PrestonRating: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

Deep in Honduras, in a region called La Mosquitia, lie some of the last unexplored places on earth.

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Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumours have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden deep in the Honduran interior. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and warn the legendary city is cursed: to enter it is a death sentence. They call it the Lost City of the Monkey God.

Bestselling author Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a single-engine plane carrying a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but a lost civilization.

To confirm the discovery, Preston and the team battled torrential rains, quickmud, plagues of insects, jaguars, and deadly snakes. They emerged from the jungle with proof of the legend… and the curse.

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1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies

1913 The Year Before the Storm

Rating: 1 Star ★☆☆☆☆

This is the month when Hitler and Stalin meet while strolling in the Castle Park at Schönbrunn, Thomas Mann nearly gets outed and Franz Kafka nearly goes mad with love.

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The stuffy conventions of the nineteenth century are receding into the past, and 1913 heralds a new age of unlimited possibility. Kafka falls in love; Louis Armstrong learns to play the trumpet; a young seamstress called Coco Chanel opens her first boutique; Charlie Chaplin signs his first movie contract; and new drugs like cocaine usher in an age of decadence.

Yet everywhere there is the premonition of ruin – the number 13 is omnipresent, and in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Trieste, artists take the omen and act as if there were no tomorrow, their brief coincidences of existence telling of a darker future. In a Munich hotel lobby, Rilke and Freud discuss beauty and transience; Proust sets out in search of lost time; and while Stravinsky celebrates the Rite of Spring with industrial cacophony, in Munich an Austrian postcard painter by the name of Adolf Hitler sells his conventional cityscapes.

Told with Illies’s characteristic mixture of poignant evocation and laconic irony, 1913 is the story of the year that shaped the last century.

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Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple

Nine Lives William Dalrymple

Rating: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

Twi hills of blackly gleaming granite, smooth as glass, rise from a thickly wooded landscape of banana plantations and jagged palmyra palms.

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A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet – then spends the rest of his life trying to atone for the violence by hand printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve herself to death.

Nine people, nine lives; each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. William Dalrymple delves deep into the heart of a nation torn between the relentless onslaught of modernity and the ancient traditions that endure to this day.

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