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The Body: A Guide for Occupants

af Bill Bryson

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2,936964,881 (4.14)54
"Bill Bryson, bestselling author of A Short History of Nearly Everything, takes us on a head-to-toe tour of the marvel that is the human body. As compulsively readable as it is comprehensive, this is Bryson at his very best, a must-read owner's manual for everybody. Bill Bryson once again proves himself to be an incomparable companion as he guides us through the human body--how it functions, its remarkable ability to heal itself, and (unfortunately) the ways it can fail. Full of extraordinary facts (your body made a million red blood cells since you started reading this) and irresistible Bryson-esque anecdotes, The Body will lead you to a deeper understanding of the miracle that is life in general and you in particular. As Bill Bryson writes, "We pass our existence within this wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted." The Body will cure that indifference with generous doses of wondrous, compulsively readable facts and information"--… (mere)
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Confession, This review is based on a BVlinkist summary of the book. though i actually have a copy of the full book...it's going to take me some time to wade my way through it. Which I still intend to do. But here are some snippets from the Blinkist review which caught my attention.:
Imagine that you had to build a human being from scratch. How would you go about it? What building blocks would you need? How much would it cost?...Well, in 2013 the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry took on the bizarre task of estimating the specific cost of building actor Benedict Cumberbatch....According to their calculations, you’d need 59 different elements, although only six in any serious quantity–carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous. Those elements would cost you £96,546.79...But that’s only one estimate. An episode of the science program Nova, broadcast by US network PBS in 2012, pegged the cost of building a human at a mere $168.
The miracle of life isn’t something you can create simply by sticking stuff together. Science can tell us a lot, though. Inside the nucleus of each cell is a meter of DNA. Made up of chromosomes and genes, DNA contains the information needed to make you......It’s also remarkable to think that we arrived here through evolution, having started off as nothing more than a few cells in the ocean. All the developments that humans have undergone since that time have basically been wonderful accidents.
We’re not alone: each of us contains trillions of microbes, which we need to survive.
You have trillions upon trillions of microbes both inside you and on you. There are around 40 thousand different species, nine hundred of which live in your nostrils alone.
Microbes are especially important when it comes to digestion: they give us 10 percent of our calories by breaking down food. Bacteria in our gut and intestines produce ten thousand digestive enzymes, whereas we alone produce only 20......Our microbiota is made up of more than just bacteria, though; we also contain viruses.....According to Dana Willner of San Diego State University, the average person has 174 of them, and 90 percent of these are probably unknown. Of the hundreds of thousands of viruses that exist, thankfully only 263 of them are known to cause disease in humans.
Our microbiota also includes archaea, single-celled microorganisms that are similar to bacteria but never cause disease in humans; fungi, which on the whole have little effect on us; [Not sure that I agree with writing off fungi...I once had a fungal skin infection which, had it made its way into my lungs might have meant death] and protists, a category which pretty much includes all other microscopic organisms. Although over a million microbes have been identified, only 1,415 of them are known to cause us harm. Not a bad ratio
Penicillin’s brilliance in killing bacteria is also a weakness, though: it kills off good bacteria as well as bad, often to our detriment.......antibiotics are far too widely prescribed.
Your head contains one of the most extraordinary things anywhere: your brain.
The myth that we only use 10 percent of our brain’s full capacity at any given moment isn’t true: we use the whole thing. In fact, it takes up 20 percent of all our energy–for a newborn baby, that number is 65 percent. And the size or ours is nothing special either–relatively speaking, they’re the same size as those of mice. But the 86 billion or so neurons it contains form trillions of connections with each other, adding up to something quite remarkable.
The brain is divided into three main sections: the cerebrum, which is the part split into two hemispheres, and the home of everything from sensory processing to emotions and personality; the cerebellum, at the back of the head, which contains more than half of neurons in the brain and is responsible for balance and movement; and the brainstem, which connects the brain to the spine and the rest of the body. The brainstem regulates fundamental functions like breathing and sleeping.
Then there are all sorts of smaller parts, such as the hypothalamus, a peanut-sized area that controls most of our chemical workings and regulates things like sexual function, hunger and thirst, even possibly how fast we age.
We can make thousands of different expressions, but it’s believed that there are six that are universal among all humans: fear, anger, surprise, pleasure, disgust, and sorrow. [My understanding is that this universality has recently been challenged by Lisa Feldman Barrett in “How emotions are made”] Literally everyone recognizes a true smile. It’s not something we can fake as we’re unable to control the muscles that produce it independently. Our heads are also where three key senses are based: sight, hearing, and smell–all of which are processed by that remarkable, tofu-like blob known as the brain.
Our understanding of the heart and blood has improved, but still has far to go. In our lifetimes, our hearts will get through 3.5 billion beats. The powerful thrusts of the heart dispense about 260 liters of blood every hour. The four main constituents of blood are plasma, red and white blood cells, and platelets. Plasma, the most plentiful component, is 90 percent water and contains various chemicals. Red blood cells are the ones that deliver oxygen around the body. White blood cells are vital in fighting infections. For a long time, platelets were a mystery, but we now know that they help blood to clot, and recent research has shown they also help in other areas, such as regenerating tissue.
Hormones are vital yet mysterious chemicals manufactured within the body. Hormones
can be broadly defined as anything made in one part of the body that causes something to happen in another. Since 1958, the number of known hormones has risen from about 20 to at least 80. As late as the 1920s, diabetes was effectively a death sentence: without insulin, sugar levels would just rise and rise. Oxytocin, for instance, is sometimes known as the “hug hormone” as it helps generate feelings of affection. But, for unknown reasons, it’s also involved in directing contractions of the uterus when mothers give birth......
Humans have evolved a uniquely flexible structure that lets us walk on two feet.
How many bones do you have? Approximately 206,....Plus there are the sesamoid bones, which are like sesame-seeds, mostly very small and are found in our hands, feet, and elsewhere. They’re not included in that calculation.
Bones offer us protection, make blood cells and store chemicals. In the early 2000s it was discovered that they even make a hormone, osteocalcin. Incidentally, this may explain why regular exercise, which strengthens bones, also helps to reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.....Hands contain 29 bones, 17 muscles, 123 named ligaments, and assorted arteries and nerves, and there are another 18 muscles in the forearm that control them....What’s truly unique to humans is a trio of muscles in our thumbs that let us manipulate tools extremely effectively. They’re not well known, though: few have heard of the extensor pollicis brevis, flexor pollicis longus, and first volar interosseous of Henle.
It’s something to remember as we slouch back onto the couch: we are designed for movement.
You are literally what you eat– and that includes all that sugar.....Cooking softens our food, and is the reason we’ve evolved smaller teeth and a comparatively weak jaw. It also kills off toxins, makes stuff taste better, and frees up time that we’d otherwise spend chewing. Plus, it lets us extract more energy from food....Eating isn’t just about getting energy, though. We also need to take in vitamins and minerals.....Everyone knows that we need carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, but how much of each is a contentious question......One of the few certainties in dietary science is that we eat too much sugar.
Where does all this food go once we eat it? It spends a few hours bathing in hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which is why we don’t constantly get ill from the food we eat–the acid kills off potentially harmful microbes. Then, the food progresses down to the intestines– first the small and then the large one. All of the nutrients are absorbed there, and bacteria break down the fibre.....Food that can’t be used comes out as feces. An average
person produces 14,000 pounds over the course of a lifetime. [Nice to know].
Our body tracks the time of day so it can tell us when to sleep.
Nobody knows why sleep is so important. Yet on average it takes up a third of our lives.
either sleep does something extremely important, or it’s an evolutionary mistake of truly unique proportions. As recently as 1999, it was discovered that there’s a third type of photoreceptor cell in our eyes along with the rods and cones we’ve long known about that enable us to see. This third type–photosensitive retinal ganglion cells–detects brightness, telling you when it’s day and when it’s night. [This was new to me].
We’re also now discovering that our body is full of internal, circadian clocks–chemical mechanisms that respond to the time of day–which reside in organs from the pancreas to the kidneys. [Well that’s interesting because I’ve just read a book about circardian rhythms and it didn’t mention any clock apart from the one in the brain suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN]
Our reflexes are best in the middle of the afternoon.
Thanks to the tiny pineal gland in the middle of our brains, they track the seasons too, just like hibernating animals.
Our hair grows faster in the summer. [Didn’t know that].
We’re not alone in having internal clocks, either–even bacteria have them.
The amount of sleep we need decreases with age, which is why young adults need more sleep than their parents.
Medical research on women lags behind, and childbirth research is still in its infancy. Another manifestation of sexism in science is the fact that women have been studied far less than men. Female anatomy has been under-researched as well, as the ongoing debate about the existence of the G spot exemplifies. Far more is known about the male anatomy, although there are still some mysteries, such as average penis size: studies have produced widely differing results.
The placenta, for instance, is sometimes called our least understood organ, but it’s a hugely active part of development, filtering out toxins, distributing hormones, and killing anything that might do the fetus harm. Most problems in pregnancy result from issues with the placenta rather than the fetus.....Childbirth itself is so strange as to be miraculous. It’s not clear exactly what triggers it, but suddenly the amniotic fluid in the womb drains away and the baby’s heart and lungs start working on their own.....That passage through the birth canal, however, may have long-term effects on the baby–thanks, once again, to microbes,
which transfer to the baby from the birth canal.
We’re winning the fight against communicable diseases–but other diseases will claim us instead......2011 was a notable year in the history of disease. It was the first time there were more deaths from non-communicable diseases–diseases that can’t be transmitted from human to human, like heart failure and strokes–than from communicable ones, like viruses.
In the US, for example, diphtheria once killed 15 thousand people a year but is now vanishingly rare–but we have only rendered one disease extinct. That, thankfully, was smallpox, probably the worst disease humans have ever faced because of its rampant infectiousness–it killed some 500 million people in the 20th century alone before being declared officially eradicated in 1980.
We know of around seven thousand genetic diseases which are non-communicable.
Another category of disease is known as mismatch diseases, according to Professor Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University. These are caused by the discrepancy between our contemporary lifestyles and the original hunter-gatherer purposes for which the human body evolved. Examples include the rise of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We could avoid most of them through lifestyle choices.
In effect, cancer is the body attacking itself. Causes are varied, although the risk increases
with age and with certain behaviours like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and excessive eating.
While acute pain serves a purpose in alerting us to danger, chronic pain is simply a fault in the system.
We’ve gotten better at avoiding death, but it comes for us all.
at some point between 1900 and 1912, a patient’s chances of getting something useful out of a visit to the doctor suddenly jumped above 50 percent for the first time. It’s just gotten better from there. Since the 19th century, there had been a decline in deaths caused by many diseases, including tuberculosis and measles, even before there were any effective treatments for them. The reason for this was everything else that had improved in life: better sanitation, better diet, and even the railways, which meant that food could arrive in cities much fresher. .....Staving off death is only ever temporary. It’s not clear why we age.....There are around 60 million deaths every year–around 0.7 per hundred people. A fifth of these deaths are sudden, and another fifth are at short notice. All the others are relatively slow.
The key message: Science can tell us incredible things about the human body, but one of the most incredible is how many mysteries still remain. There’s so much more to learn about how the body works and how we should treat it, but it’s also worthwhile to simply remember just how amazing it is that we exist at all.
My take on the book. Well as with all the Bill Bryson books, it’s full of fascinating facts...presented in memorable prose with his great touches of humour. There are a lot of one line summaries above that really should have the details attached. I have the full book and I intend to read it....so I’ll be able to do a reasonable comparison with this Blinkist summary. But five stars from me. ( )
  booktsunami | Jul 5, 2024 |
A fun book about the human body and it's parts and processes. The author goes into enough detail to be useful, but avoids getting mired in too much minutia. Definitely recommend. ( )
  kokeyama | May 25, 2024 |
BIBLIOGRAPHIC DETAILS
(Print: 1/1/2019; 978-0857522405; Doubleday; 448 pages.)
Audio: 10/15/2019; 9780147526946; Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group; Duration: 14:11:39
(Film: No)

SUMMARY/EVALUATION:
I listened to Bill’s “At Home” a couple of months ago and at that point put him on the “read everything written” list.
This is an interesting topic, and while I would like to find non-fiction audiobooks devoted to each topic he’s covered here, I suspect they would not be nearly as interesting, or fun, to listen to.
So, did you know that when someone is “in good humor”, the phrase initially did not mean that s/he was in a good mood, but that all four humors (black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm) were in good working order (which would indeed lead to a good mood)? Or, that when a lady hits menopause, it’s not because she has run out of eggs? Did you know that you are not the only one that sees tiny white short strand-like dancing dots when you look into the blue sky? That’s called the "Blue Field Entopic Phenomenon", or better, “blue-sky-sprites”. It’s caused by white blood cells passing in front of your retina. You don’t see the red cells because the color blue cancels out the color red….or, I guess scientists like to say one color absorbs the other--something like that, but I like my version better. The entire book is that interesting, IMAGINE! Or better yet, read it. ( )
  TraSea | Apr 29, 2024 |
I love Bill Bryson for his humor. This book didn't disappoint. Just enough technical mumbo-jumbo about the body to understand without having to be in the medical profession. Sprinkled throughout with interesting tidbits and stories. ( )
  teejayhanton | Mar 22, 2024 |
You know, this was an interesting read generally, lots of factoids and snapshots of the people involved in our current understanding of the body. However, I felt throughout like Bryson was trying really hard to write a "Bill Bryson" book about the body that would rival A Short History of Nealy Everything and I can't help but feel like it came up short. I'm glad I read it, partially because it gives a good sense for how much baloney is out there masquerading as knowledge and also because it makes one appreciate having access to a 21st Century approach to medicine (imperfect as it may be). ( )
  wsampson13 | Mar 2, 2024 |
Viser 1-5 af 95 (næste | vis alle)
"He has waded through a PhD’s worth of articles, interviewed a score of physicians and biologists, read a library of books, and had a great deal of fun along the way. There’s a formula at work – the prose motors gleefully along, a finely tuned engine running on jokes, factoids and biographical interludes."
tilføjet af Edward | RedigerThe Guardian, Gavin Francis (Sep 26, 2019)
 
 

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Long ago, when I was a junior high school student in America, I remember being taught by a biology teacher that all the chemicals that make up a human body could be bought in a hardware store for $5 or something like that.
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(p180) Study after study since then (the late 1940's?) has shown that exercise produces extraordinary benefits. Going for regular walks reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke by 31 per cent (sic scil percent).
(p223) Although two of the world's most prestigious medical journals had now (in 1950) demonstrated a clear association between smoking and lung cancer, the findings had almost no effect. People just loved smoking too much to quit.
(p224) When Britain's Minister of Health, Iain Macleod, formally announced at a press conference (in 1952) that there was an unequivocal connection between smoking and lung cancer, he rather undercut his position by smoking conspicuously as he did so.
(p224) In 1964, the US surgeon general announced an unequivocal link between smoking and lung cancer, but the announcement had little effect. The number of cigarettes smoked by the average American over the age of 16 fell slightly from 4,340 a year before the announcement to 4,200 afterwards, but then climbed back to about 4,500 and stayed there for years. Remarkably, the American Medical Association took fifteen years to endorse the surgeon general's finding.
(p236) ... a 150g serving of white rice or a small bowl of cornflakes will have the same effect on your blood glucose levels as nine teaspoons of sugar.
(p378) ... at present only about one person in ten thousand lives to be even a hundred. ... The chances of reaching your one-hundred-and-tenth birthday are about one in seven million. ...
The longest-lived person that we know of was Jeanne Louise Calment of Arles, in Provence, who died at the decidedly ripe age of 122 years, 164 days in 1997. ... Calment had a leisurely life: Her father was a rich shipbuilder and her husband a prosperous businessman. She never worked. Calment smoked all her life - at the age of 117, when she finally gave up, she was still smoking two cigarettes a day - and ate a kilo of chocolate every week, but was active up to the very end and enjoyed robust health.
(p442, 443 Large Print Edition) The moment of birth, the starting of a new life, really is quite a miracle. In the womb, a fetus's lungs are filled with amniotic fluid, but with exquisite timing at the moment of birth the fluid drains away, the lungs inflate, and blood from the tiny, freshly beating heart is sent on its first circuit around the body. What had until a moment before effectively been a parasite is now on its way to becoming a fully independent, self-maintaining entity.
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"Bill Bryson, bestselling author of A Short History of Nearly Everything, takes us on a head-to-toe tour of the marvel that is the human body. As compulsively readable as it is comprehensive, this is Bryson at his very best, a must-read owner's manual for everybody. Bill Bryson once again proves himself to be an incomparable companion as he guides us through the human body--how it functions, its remarkable ability to heal itself, and (unfortunately) the ways it can fail. Full of extraordinary facts (your body made a million red blood cells since you started reading this) and irresistible Bryson-esque anecdotes, The Body will lead you to a deeper understanding of the miracle that is life in general and you in particular. As Bill Bryson writes, "We pass our existence within this wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted." The Body will cure that indifference with generous doses of wondrous, compulsively readable facts and information"--

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