Saturday, April 8, 2017

Grunt by Mary Roach

Why I Read It: I think I hooked myself, after reading Stiff. Feels like I'm adding her to the list of authors I will read whenever they publish.

Summary: Subtitle: "The Curious Science of Humans at War."

My Thoughts: Years ago, a friend and I did some research for a book we were writing about a local military base and found that much more went on at the base than we originally expected to find. Underneath the straightforward training for combat in World War II was an undercurrent of experimentation. There were uniforms and equipment, vehicles like the Aqua Cheetah and self-propelled scissor bridges. But at the deepest level was the war against seasickness. A doctor on base even developed a "seasick machine" that recreated the illness so that he could test different remedies on "volunteers." At the heart of it all was a harrowing statistic. The Army expected that for troops landing in amphibious raids casualties could be expected to be as high as 90%, due to seasickness.

And that is generally what this book is about, fine-tuning the American soldier to make him or her as safe as possible in all operations, by wrapping him or her in the most durable and lightest gear available. The author, in her typical graphic but deliberate style, walks us through the testing facilities and labs where the work is being done, on hearing, on fabrics and more. She stays clear of weaponry, telling us this book is about the soldier and how s/he adapts to combat. There is also a focus on rebuilding soldiers torn apart by war, which is not for the squeamish.

The author, as usual, uses self-deprecating humor to tell the story, dropping bad jokes on submarine commanders and exposing her ignorance on specific topics in the most awkward places. It humanizes the process of dealing with topics such as the effects of diarrhea on combat operations.

It's a losing battle, of course. War will take lives. But the goal of the book is to highlight what is being done to deal with the minutiae that may eliminated or controlled in order to lessen casualties in future wars.

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