Mary Roach’s Zaniest Antics, Ranked

Mary Roach, award-winning author of six humorous, disgusting books, is one of the most objectively fascinated people on earth. The author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003) and, most recently, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, she is endlessly amused and intrigued by the natural world around her. On her author website, she emphasizes she was never her intention to become one of the most accomplished science writers of the 21st century—instead, she liked telling stories, and science stories happened to be the most interesting.

Reading Mary Roach is like traveling the world with a fun, uninhibited aunt. She makes snarky, intelligent jokes, she will talk to anyone, and waiters always seem to overhear her saying the word “clitoris.” To celebrate Grunt’s rousing success, The Booklist Reader has compiled and ranked a list of the strangest, most memorable things Mary Roach has done in pursuit of scientific entertainment.

7. Walking through a field of decomposing human bodies

While Mary was researching Stiff, a team of scientists was observing the natural decay of cadavers exposed to the elements without preservation. The results were potent, to say the least. Every day at a specific time, Mary and the gang would step around the bodies and note specific changes in sight and smell.


6. Alienating recruiters for the Mars mission

While researching Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void, Mary applied for a simulated Mars mission. She made it past the first round of the interview process, a combination of hypercritical personality evaluation and interpersonal skill tests. One night, around 4:30 a.m., Mary received a call regarding her second interview. Mary failed to hide her agitation, and was subsequently cut from consideration. No one wants to be stuck on the red planet with a grumpy, groggy sassmouth.


gulp5. Getting a colonoscopy while wide awake

To conduct research for Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Roach opted out of anesthetic for this common procedure. She endured the discomfort fully conscious, and reported to readers that the sight of one’s own large intestine is nothing short of breathtaking.


4. Visiting the exact location of the Donner Party cannibalism.

While researching Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, she and a group of scientists tested radio waves and other invisible signals for any indications of lingering spirits in the western American woods.

3. Watching someone get to second base with livestock.


While researching Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Mary visited with a group of farmers in Denmark who artificially inseminate sows. For the record, even though the sperm is injected via Pyrex tube, sows still have a better chance of conceiving if the mammary glands are stimulated during insemination.

2. Observing how polar bears behave around menstruating women.

While doing research for Grunt, Mary watched an experiment intended to test whether or not bears are really attracted to the smell of human blood. A menstruating female subject sat just outside of a polar bear enclosure and waited for the bears to show interest in her active loins. What did the experiment really examine? How bizarre the human experience tends to be.

1. Doing the deed with her husband inside an MRI machine.

In her greatest stroke of genius, Mary convinced her husband to help her conduct research for Bonk. The couple agreed to have intercourse inside a 4D ultrasound machine, so that scientists could observe the body’s various external and internal reactions to such excitement. Bless Mary Roach’s unending commitment to scientific entertainment, and bless Mary Roach’s husband undying commitment to Mary Roach.

UPDATE: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that Mary Roach got to second base with livestock. It has been corrected to read that Mary Roach watched someone get to second base with livestock. We regret the error.



About the Author:

Courtney Eathorne is a former Booklist intern, current reviewer, and a hungry, hungry bookeater. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Playwriting and can be seen leading food-and-beer bicycle tours around the city of Chicago with Bobby’s Bike Hike. Follow her reading and eating on instagram at @ceathorne.

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