Browsing, woolgathering, meandering, wandering, drifting, that state when exploring, when looking to find what it might be possible to find rather than seeking one particular goal, is the means of locomotion. I often think that hunter-gatherers must move a lot like this, seeking game or plant foods, flexible about what might show up on any given day. I was lucky that children were weeds, not hothouse flowers, in those days, left to our own devices, and my own devices led in two directions: north to the hills and the horses, south to the library.
What is it? Mary Roach ’s latest look at the “curious science” of an unusual field, this time focusing on military technology—“not the killing, but the keeping alive.” Subjects include how to better armor cars, developing stink bombs for different cultural “preferences,” and the effect of sleep deprivation on submariners.
Why should I spend my precious time reading it? Like all of Roach’s books, Grunt comes packed with fascinating historical tidbits; anyone spending their summer at cocktail parties can load up on factoids to share and amaze. Furthermore, Roach remains one of the flat-out funniest and most entertaining writers around, covering complex subjects with clarity and wit. Grunt features a ton of big laughs, but the serious purpose behind this science—keeping soldiers as safe as possible—allows Roach to inject more complexity and emotion than her earlier books on sex or space .
Recommended reading: Each of Grunt ’s chapters is standalone, meaning readers can skip to the topic they’re most interested in, making this an ideal companion for not-too-long bus rides or flights. [Ryan Vlastelica]