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Bodyology - Mosaic Science ****

It's a good sign when you pick up a book intending to read one chapter and end up reading three. It's very moreish. This is because it's made up of short, self-contained articles, originally published on a website. Often an edited collection of articles by different authors suggests a boring read, but here the articles are good pieces of journalism with plenty to interest the reader.

The topics are all vaguely human body related, but thankfully not all medical (not my favourite subject) - so, for example, as well as stories of a person cured of Lyme disease by bee stings or a piece on miscarriages we get topics like the effects on the body of being struck by lightning or falling from a high place. Even some more explicitly health-related matters, such as the impact of losing your sense of smell, were engaging enough to get me past my medical squeamishness.

The only reason I can't give the collection five stars is because of one aspect of the writing style that runs through pretty well all the articles that really bugs me. I can't help hearing the theme tune to The Twilight Zone as I read the opening of the articles, as time after time we get a variant on the voice over that used to introduce each TZ story. 'Little did Hieronymus Gump realise when he walked out of his home on that sunny morning in June that his life would never be the same again.' That kind of thing. Each article has one or more 'real life stories' (sometimes first person) running through it as a backbone.

I know a lot of people like a human interest narrative. Lots of people buy those 'true life stories' magazine or enjoy watching reality TV - this style is the literary equivalent. But it's not for me. I just keep mentally urging the writer 'Get on with the science - I don't care about these people.' Apart from this tabloid approach, the writing is generally very good, but the heavy-duty use of the personal still grates a little.

However, it says something about the interesting topics and the writing that despite the 'real life stories. I was very happy to read on. This is a great collection of articles combining everyday and very strange aspects of the human body and its interaction with the world around it. 

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Review by Brian Clegg

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