One of the best teachers I ever had once gave our class the statement “I (blank) a body” and asked us to fill in the blank. The most obvious answer, it seems, is “have.” I have a body. I’m having problems with my body; it’s not in as good shape as I would like. My nose is running and my back hurts. Perhaps a more useful answer is “am.” I am a body. My brain and “self” are parts of it, but my spleen and my sinuses are no less “me.” It’s worth thinking about every day. Humans may be completely absorbed in their “selves,” but we’re astoundingly ignorant about our bodies, why they react to things the way they do, and how to take care of them.
Pop-science writer Jennifer Ackerman makes it easy, using humor, anecdotes and memorable characters to make the clinical data digestible. Following her fascinating “Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day In the Life of Your Body,” she gets more specific with this one, delving into the science and culture of the common cold. She doesn’t find a cure—she suggests that despite all the research being done and academic debates being had, it’s not a likely proposition—but she has a lot more fun than the topic suggests. Myths are debunked, counterintuitive advice is dispensed, and many quirky medical experiments are recounted.
Squeamish hypochondriacs will regret cracking this. And anyone will be forced to reconsider sneezing, immune function, rearing children and doing the laundry. (Emerson Dameron)
Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold
By Jennifer Ackerman
Twelve, $22.99, 256 pages