I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Bones: Inside and Out by Roy A. Meals
Published by W. W. Norton Company on October 20, 2020
Genres: General, Life Sciences, Non-fiction, Science
Buy on Amazon, B&N, iBooks, GooglePlay, Kobo, BAM, Book Depository, Publisher
A lively, illustrated exploration of the 500-million-year history of bone, a touchstone for understanding vertebrate life and human culture.
Human bone is versatile and entirely unique: it repairs itself without scarring, it’s lightweight but responds to stresses, and it’s durable enough to survive for millennia. In Bones, orthopedic surgeon Roy A. Meals explores and extols this amazing material that both supports and records vertebrate life.
Inside the body, bone proves itself the world’s best building material. Meals examines the biological makeup of bones; demystifies how they grow, break, and heal; and compares the particulars of human bone to variations throughout the animal kingdom. In engaging and clear prose, he debunks familiar myths—humans don’t have exactly 206 bones—and illustrates common bone diseases, like osteoporosis and arthritis, and their treatments. Along the way, he highlights the medical innovations—from the first X-rays to advanced operative techniques—that enhance our lives and introduces the giants of orthopedic surgery who developed them.
After it has supported vertebrate life, bone reveals itself in surprising ways—sometimes hundreds of millions of years later. With enthusiasm and humor, Meals investigates the diverse roles bone has played in human culture throughout history. He highlights allusions to bone in religion and literature, from Adam’s rib to Hamlet’s skull, and uncovers its enduring presence as fossils, technological tools, and musical instruments ranging from the Tibetan thighbone kangling horn to everyday drumsticks. From the dawn of civilization through to the present day, humankind has repurposed bone to serve and protect, and even to teach, amuse, and inspire.
Approachable and entertaining, Bones richly illuminates our bodies’ essential framework.
I’ll preface this review by saying I knew absolutely nothing about bones. I could tell you that it’s the hard stuff that holds our bodies vertical, that they sometimes break but eventually heal and it’s where our red blood cells come from, but beyond that? Nothing.
Bones is a book that is for the initiated and uninitiated alike, although granted the initiated will find that 90% of the content of this book is remedial. The book is divided in three sections: what are bones and what do they do, what happens when bones ‘go bad’ and what innovations have we developed to rectify these problems and how are bones part of humanity’s cultural and artistic history? It also answers interesting questions like how do bones grow from the moment we are born until we are adults and then what happens to them as we age? Meals also covers topics such as the composition of bone and the reasons why bone are so darn strong – both of which, as a neophyte in bone, surprised me.
Meals straddles the line between accessible “everybody” popular science and the more technical side of things, dumbing down the important parts but also adding just a tad more for those who better understand biology and chemistry. In the end, while Bones started out a bit bumpy with Meals’ discussion as to why bones are nature’s greatest building material (i find construction materials boring), later chapters were educational and fun to read.
The only part of this novel that fell flat for me what the anthropological section, which will still be incredibly interesting for many readers.
The author is very passionate about all things bones, including architecture, art and carved items (there’s a photo of a contraption made entirely of bone that folds in and out like an accordion that’s particularly surprising). The author’s enthusiasm for all things bone shines through in every line, but one section that fell flat for me was the last bit of the book dealing with cultural and artistic uses of bone throughout all of human history. Some of this section was interesting but grotesque which, granted, is expected of anything made from the remains of a once living creature. I’d already learned plenty about bones as instruments and tolls during my university degree, so most of the information in this section was not new. Thus, while written in an engaging, accessible and enthusiastic manner, this section above all was a slog for me – but still worth a read for those who haven’t studied bones or have never taken interest in how bones have shaped or been shaped by human cultures into tools, art and games.
Finally, Bones contains several photos taken by the author himself and added a personal touch to such an impersonal subject. The author includes several anecdotal stories regarding the author’s bone-ish hobbies outside the operating theater and amusing hints that his wife is somewhat discomfort with his hobbies. Meals comes across as a quirky and interesting person without delving too excessively on his personal successes, which will undoubtedly give Bones a strong entrance into the popular science genre.
Bones is an under represented subject in popular science – its much more complex and fascinating than our grade school teachers made us believe – and Meals delivers a wonderful reading experience much worth taking.
Also of note, the author has an really interesting blog about..well..bones.