Book review: The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You can’t really go wrong with Bill Bryson. I’ve read most of his collection over the last 15 years and yet to find one that I could consider a dud. The closest to that was his ‘One Summer 1927’ which I would classify as ‘extremely interesting’, rather than ‘absolutely fascinating’ as I would any of his other books.

‘The Body’ undeniably fits under this latter category. It is an utterly absorbing book and would be ‘un-put-down-able’ if it were not for the fact that you sometimes just need to step back and marvel at how stunning the human body really is.

This is Bryson’s gift. You feel he is as interested in the subject as you are; that he marvels at the very things he writes about; that he is compelled to write a particular book because it will eat him up if he doesn’t. He makes you want to go ‘wow’ with him.

He’s also, at times, extremely funny, though in books of this sort he tends to be more witty rather belly-achingly hilarious. It helps to keep the pace light. This is a thick book densely packed with facts about the body. In all other circumstances we’d call this a text book and reading such a thing is reserved as punishment for students. With Bryson, it feels nothing like a text book. His storytelling gifts allow him to present remarkably deep information and make it feel like he’s spinning a yarn in a pub. You can’t help but take in every word.

Bryson covers more or less every part of our body and there’s no point going into detail about that, revealing interesting bits of information or anything else because, well, how do you decide which to include? From which chapter? Even from which page?! Rather like his ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ and ‘At Home’ , you can pretty much flick open anywhere and read something which will make you think ‘well! – I never knew that before!’. you greatest danger will be boring others with things you’ve just read. Yes, it’s one of those kinds of books.

In short, this review is almost superfluous, I find it hard to imagine anyone writing a review trashing this book. I write it simply because I adore the man, loved the book and, occasionally, you come across someone who hasn’t read his stuff before. Like a newly-converted evangelical, I’m going to want to make new believers as I go. So there you have it: buy the book, it’s brilliant.

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. His third book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, was published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.


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