In this ambitious if uneven debut, physician and naturalist Reisman offers a “behind-the-scenes look at life itself” via an odyssey through the human body. Accompanied by stories from his experience practicing medicine around the world—“from a clinic in high-altitude Nepal to an emergency room in Arctic Alaska”—each chapter considers a different part of human anatomy to highlight “how those parts compose a whole.” Rather than feature case studies of the sensational oddities, Reisman focuses on the more pedestrian cases that make up the bulk of his career as a generalist—such as “battling the fallout of the throat’s flawed design” in caring for a patient with pneumonia, or walking a middle-aged man through his first heart attack. A particulary striking chapter on feces sees Reisman bluntly challenges taboos surrounding human excrement with the story of a patient whose debilitating diarrhea was treated with an experimental fecal transplant. Notwithstanding the deep curiosity driving his narrative, though, Reisman often slips into clichéd musings—for instance, in an essay on genitalia, he concludes with his own child’s birth, making the trite observation that “nothing would ever be the same.” Though its author is clearly well traveled, this work mostly treads familiar territory. (Oct.)
"A fascinating, lyrical book... Reisman's experiences in other cultures bring a richness and depth to The Unseen Body. The way he thinks about the body and medicine—the rivers and tributaries, the flowing and unclogging, the top-down organization of the brain—is extraordinary!"
"There are people who will love The Unseen Body—especially those who prefer their science with a soft landing or those who are pretty savvy about anatomy and appreciate a literary approach. As for Dr. Reisman, he comes across as a generous and thoughtful physician, the kind of generalist whose number I’d like to have, just in case my Covid infection doesn’t clear up properly. I have a feeling he’d be able to make sense out of it all."
—Eugenia Bone, The Wall Street Journal
"A magnificent travelogue through the human body by a truly intrepid explorer. A genuine 'must' for anyone who is even remotely curious about their own body and how it works. I really loved it."
—Professor Sue Black, bestselling author of Written in Bone and All that Remains
"Reisman’s passion and inquisitiveness are engaging even when topics turn to feces and cadavers.... An engaging book likely to pique the curiosity of readers interested in a wide range of medical conditions or naturalistic medicine."
"Quirky, never-dull popular science... even readers familiar with college biology will enjoy the experience."
"Dr. Reisman engagingly relates provocative stories for the fifteen body parts uncovered in this treatise, and goads the reader to reevaluate their perception of the body."
—City Book Review
"Physician and naturalist Reisman offers a 'behind-the-scenes look at life itself' via an odyssey through the human body. Accompanied by stories from his experience practicing medicine around the world.... deep curiosity driv[es] his narrative."
“An elegant, elegiac, and deeply enjoyable meander through human anatomy by way of brain-tanned buckskin, blood as the last, salty remnant of life’s oceanic origins, and the World Testicle Cooking Championships. The images Reisman conjures will linger long after you’ve devoured his delightful prose.”
—Nicola Twilley, coauthor of Until Proven Safe and cohost of Gastropod
“Terrific, memorable, original, and full of information that informs one’s understanding not only of the body but also of what has stopped us from knowing more. There is palpable joy at learning in Reisman’s writing, and readers will know him as an individual whose humility and empathy are as impressive as his adventurous, travel-hungry spirit.”
—Kenneth S. Brecher, cultural anthropologist and author of Too Sad to Sing
“Through his acute and extensive observations of the seen world of nature and human nature, Reisman illuminates the analogous workings of our unseen bodies. An Alexander von Humboldt of the human body, Reisman’s comparisons give us an ingenious perspective from which to understand the ways our internal organs function alone and together. I highly recommend this book to everyone interested in understanding and appreciating the marvels of the human body.”
—Warren Zapol, M.D., professor of anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School, Antarctic researcher, and inventor
"A remarkable travel narrative that documents the author’s trip through a seemingly familiar place, the human body, and with a blend of science and personal experience renders that place both strange and fascinating, so much so that the reader will feel not only delighted, but also proud to be a lifelong inhabitant of it.”
—Lawrence Millman, award-winning author of Fungipedia
"If you are fascinated by the human body and how it works, or you are thinking about studying medicine, or you are just a curious person you will find this book a joy to read . . . This is a great and easy read which I heartily (excuse the pun) recommend."
—Alex Rodgers, author of The Deep
Reisman, a white American internist and naturalist, takes readers on a journey through the human body, with intriguing narratives about anatomy and treating patients around the world. Each chapter focuses on one part of human anatomy (skin; the lungs), its role, and what happens when it doesn't function. Within these chapters, Reisman recounts practicing medicine outside the continental U.S. (working at an Iñupiat clinic in Arctic Alaska; studying altitude-induced headaches in Nepal) and shares his discoveries about the human body and its connections to the rest of the natural world; this is where the book's greatest value lies. Reisman's passion and inquisitiveness are engaging even when topics turn to feces and cadavers, but readers should be warned about the book's detailed descriptions of invasive procedures. VERDICT An engaging book likely to pique the curiosity of readers interested in a wide range of medical conditions or naturalistic medicine.—Rich McIntyre Jr., UConn Health Sciences Lib., Farmington
A physician describes his travels and adventures while educating us about our body parts.
Reisman presents 15 compelling, sometimes scattershot chapters that mix personal experiences with lessons on anatomy—e.g., organs (lungs, heart, brain), fluids (blood, mucus, feces), and regions (genitals, throat, digits)—and even readers familiar with college biology will enjoy the experience. The author provides clear explanations of how blood must circulate, food enter and move steadily from one end of the body to the other, and urine, mucus, bile, and air flow smoothly. “A physician’s task in treating disease,” he writes, “is to alleviate blockages and allow fluids to resume their proper motion. In other words, most of the practice of medicine is plumbing.” Doctors spend much of their day dealing with a leak or “a clog stopping up the flow of some fluid sloshing through the body’s corporeal pipes.” The author delivers his lessons in a few pages before taking up subjects that fascinate him, a strategy that mostly works. Frostbite and finger injuries, with which Reisman has long experience, take up most of the discussion of digits, while in the chapter on blood, the author discusses leeches and how they are sometimes applied to skin grafts to prevent veins from clotting. In another chapter, Reisman chronicles the liver’s role in metabolism, a patient in the terrible throes of liver failure who was saved by a transplant, and his initial disgust with his relatives’ beloved chopped liver. Curious after studies in medical school, he took his first taste during Thanksgiving dinner and discovered that he liked it. This leads into a section on his global travels, many of which involved the consumption of various animal parts: kidneys, pancreases, marrow, brain, lungs, and even eyeballs. Little is known about the pineal gland in the brain except that it seems to regulate sleep, so Reisman writes about his sleep-deprived training and the miseries of the hospital routine on patients and health professionals alike.
Quirky, never-dull popular science.