The Body
Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.
Learn the key ideas of the book by Bill Bryson

The Body

A journey of discovery into the wonders of the human body

Human anatomy and physiology are fascinating subjects, even for people who have never studied medicine or science. In The Body, Bill Bryson, the well-known author of the bestseller A Brief History of (Almost) Everything, describes the systems and multiple apparatus of the human body. In his unmistakably easy and descriptive style, he also analyses the processes that take place in the body, and tells the fascinating story of what makes us human. The Body is an exciting look into the incredible mechanisms that enable us to live as an integral part of this world.

The Body
Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.

Although we have all the necessary ingredients, we are still not able to recreate life

Skin, brain, eyes, nose, mouth and throat, heart and blood, skeleton, lungs, the digestive system...the human body is a collection of organs and systems, which work together and make life possible. The most fundamental unit of the body is the cell, which we are able to observe and study, but not replicate. Although all the ‘ingredients’ to build a human being can be found relatively easily, we are still not able to recreate the miracle of life. Several experiments have attempted to calculate how much it would cost to create a body: the Royal Society of Chemistry, for example, estimated in 2013 that it would cost just under one hundred thousand pounds to recreate a human being using the actor Benedict Cumberbatch as a model. Just one year earlier, on an American television programme, this figure was estimated to be $168. Overlooking this astounding difference between these two estimates for a moment, the elements needed to create a human being, such as hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, selenium, and so on, are readily accessible; the difficult thing is understanding how to transform them into a living being that contains seven billion billion billion atoms.

Everything about the human body is controlled by DNA, which contains the genetic instructions that determine our physical appearance, and creates the proteins needed for each process. Its job is to duplicate itself to produce more DNA and pass on information from generation to generation: the chain of DNA in those of us alive today has never been broken since the appearance of humans some three billion years ago. DNA is imperceptible in size, but if we were to stretch out the entire length contained in each cell of the human body, it would cover the distance from Earth to the planet Pluto.


The key ideas of "The Body"

Although we have all the necessary ingredients, we are still not able to recreate life
Contain and protect: the skin is a barrier that isolates us from the outside world
Microbes allow us to live, but some of them are harmful or even lethal
The brain is the centre of thought and consciousness, but it is also the organ that controls life in our bodies
Human beings are at risk of suffocation much more than any other living creature
The heart is the body's pump, but our lifestyle greatly affects its health
Repairing the heart: the invention of bypasses and advances in transplants
The skeleton allows us to move, but we need to exercise, in order to stay healthy
Eating is a declaration of love to our bodies, and helps us stay healthy
Coming into the world: conception and the birth of a new human being
Take-home message
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