Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

20 August 2009

The front cover blurb on the paperback edition of Mary Roach's Bonk reads: "If Stiff made me glad I wasn't dead, Bonk made me glad to be alive." And it absolutely rings true.

In her third title, Roach turns her witty, scientific and slightly obsessive attention away from cadavers (Stiff) and the afterlife (Spook) and towards one of mankind's favorite but ever-unmentioned subjects: sex. And she does it almost flawlessly, balancing just enough gruesome detail (like a blow-by-blow account of penile surgery) with perfectly neutral observations (for example, Viagra does nothing for male pandas. Or women, for that matter).

Roach's humor and wit prevent the book from being dry or academic - it is anything but dry, in fact - but this is not to suggest that it is not well-researched. On the contrary. Roach is without-a-doubt 100% dedicated to fully understanding her subject. Anyone who can read a multi-volume book entitled The Heart Rate (which, you guessed it, tracks a human's heart rate during various activities - for hundreds of pages), or watch hours of Kinsey's videos, is clearly dedicated. And she takes this one step farther, volunteering herself for a few sex studies, and even herself and her (heroic and clearly devoted) husband for another.

Bottom line: I struggle to think of anything to compare Roach to, for she is truly one-of-a-kind (really, how many science journalists are just plain funny? Not to stereotype, but probably not too many). Her books are laugh-out-loud, informative, well written and, perhaps best of all, have the most wondrous footnotes in history. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of her works, provided you don't have a weak stomach, for she misses no detail, no matter how much you might wish she would.

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