*The Body: A Guide for Occupants*

That is the title of the new Bill Bryson book, and it delivers in all the ways you would expect a Bryson book to do.  Here is one sample paragraph:

Before penicillin, the closest thing to a wonder drug that existed was Salvarsan, developed by the German immunologist Paul Ehrlich in 1910, but Salvarsan was effective against only a few things, principally syphilis, and had a lot of drawbacks.  For a start, it was made from arsenic, so was toxic, and treatment consisted in injecting roughly a pint of solution into the patient’s arm once a week for fifty weeks or more.  If it wasn’t administered exactly right, fluid could seep into muscle, causing painful and sometimes serious side effects, including the need for amputation.  Doctors who could administer it safely became celebrated.  Ironically, one of the most highly regarded was Alexander Fleming.

By the way:

…the average grave is visited for only about fifteen years…

You can pre-order the book here, I would be interested to read more about Bryson’s work, writing, and research habits.


"…the average grave is visited for only about fifteen years…"

Does that include the graves of unclaimed bodies, paupers' graves, and the like? I must admit that I don't know the grave-visiting habits of anyone outside of my own family, but we've been visiting our matriarchs' and patriarchs' graves for decades.

Mobility would presumably have an effect; if you move far away you're probably going to stop visiting your grandparents' or even parents' graves, and if your children or grandchildren move far away they're not going to be visiting yours.

I visited one grave once. I don' think either men or the dead guy got anything out of it.

All the good ones get cremated

Cremation just makes more sense these days. Burials waste land that the living could use for some other purpose.

Cryopreservation also makes sense, although some people oppose it. No one without sure and certain knowledge of future science can say with absolute certainly that it won't be possible to reanimate people so preserved into youthful good health.
Cryonics organisations exist in the USA, China and Russia. There are support organisations for people residing outside those countries, although transport costs are considerable.
Cryonics is not for everyone, but the choice should be available and the cost is less than expected by many who haven't researched it.

All that thermal energy release, all those combustibles!

Cremation contributes ever so steadily to helping us maintain the momentum of Technogenic Climate Change.

Nope: seaside catapults--hurl dead bodies into oceans to feed our beleaguered marine populations.

"Before penicillin, the closest thing to a wonder drug that existed was Salvarsan..."

Sulfa superseded Salvarsan. It was widely used in World War II Not encouraging that the one passage you've provided contains an easily avoided error.

I was going to say the same thing. I remember synthesizing sulfonamide lots of years ago in organic chem lab. Sulfonamide is also the chemical backbone of a lot of other drugs (particularly blood pressure controlling diuretics).

... and the other passage he quoted contains an obviously made-up statistic.

Bryson does this a lot, especially in his linguistics books.

Bryson's books are full of such mistakes and inaccuracies. Part of the fun is spotting the mistakes, but only if you know the topic or can research it. I found such mistakes on practically every page of his "Short History of Everything". His writing is like that of a talented tourist guide of the historical variety found round the world. In Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, once such guide was so good he even asked us: 'do you want the factual version or the fun, tourist version of this cathedral?' Most people prefer the fun version, e.g., "George Washington threw the silver dollar across the Potomac and chopped down the cherry tree'.

Sulfa wasn't a wonder drug, or close to one.
Bryson is journalist not a scientist, so there is a trade-off between egg-head level expertise, and stylish readability.
If you need scientific perfection, read the scientific literature.

Well, this is what Bryson could have read in wikipedia - 'Sulfonamide drugs were the first antibacterials to be used systemically, and paved the way for the antibiotic revolution in medicine.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulfonamide_%28medicine%29#History

Along with this - 'Prontosil, as Bayer named the new drug, was the first medicine ever discovered that could effectively treat a range of bacterial infections inside the body.' If that does not make your list as even being close to a wonder drug, maybe you could provide a couple of examples of real wonder drugs?

Penicillin? Salvarsan? My Penis?


Opium use predates morphine by a few thousand years.

Aspirin is an interesting choice, but it is a wonder drug that has grown in usefulness over decades. And it too is merely a refinement from willow bark extracts, not a revolutionary new treatment for pain or fever or inflammation.

Here you go, an entire Oxford University Press book about how Sulfa are considered the first wonder drugs by the medical community. And besides, if Salvarsan could be considered a miracle drug, then Sulfa would be even more so.


Thanks. Got it. First Miracle Drugs: How the Sulfa Drugs Transformed Medicine by John E. Lesch (Editor)

Also, it is amusing how you think opting for a historically accurate sentence instead of taking an artistic liberty and creating a false impression for the reader in what is supposed to be a non-fiction book constitutes "egg-head level expertise."

I don't find it amusing. He's a journalist. You can read scientific journals if you need egg-head level science. Even egg-head scientists who write for a mass market have to dumb it down a little. Don't read his book. Write your own book. Tell us about it when it's published.

You don't find your thinking amusing? You claim:"Sulfa wasn't a wonder drug, or close to one." I doubt if many people who know the relevant facts would agree with you. But then again, I don't see much evidence that you know the relevant facts.

The hoi polloi don't understand complex facts. If one tells them HIV leaks through condoms to scare them into leading better lives then one is doing them a service. If this somehow backfires, well, you aren't ruining important lives.

'Not encouraging'

Oh, but it is - it is one of the main attractions of reading what is posted here.

"…the average grave is visited for only about fifteen years…"

In the US burial plots are generally perpetual (some overcrowded states consider grave-reuse) while in Europe graves are generally reused after 15-25 years(skeletal remains are taken to an ossuary).
It all depends on where the statistic comes from. If it's from a place where graves are re-used, it's really hard to visit a grave when your loved one is not there anymore.

Oh good. I could use a cure for my syphilis.

Let us all pray to Zeus that it isn't a case of the super-syph.

Do you have gonorrhea too? I can't stand it. Peeing burns.

Good thing you didn't contract the "black clap" in Saigon, "I love you so much I could shit!"

Your grave would be on some out-of-the way island in the South China Sea.

And, no one would have visited.

Then! A crack springs like a syringe like the vocal creature, the light turns and off, anyway, their feet scatter through this room, a morphine drip, then turn off all the lights, a blackhawk’s saturnalia, and then, occulent they try to get shoes away from the shepherds.

I was going to say I liked Bill Bryson's book about soccer hooligans, "Among the Thugs," but that turned out to be by Bill Buford.

Do the women soccer hooligans get the same pay as the males?

Not to be confused with Bill Bruford. OK, often to be confused with Bill Bruford.

You mean the drummer?

I'm a fan of Bryson's latest on the cuckoldry panic striking America. It is a real stunner.

Tabarrok believes we should allow markets in body parts, specifically a market in kidneys since kidney failure (and dialysis to keep one alive) are so common. What's not so common is knowledge of the cause of kidney disease and failure. Many antibiotics, diuretics (used to treat high blood pressure), anti-inflammatory drugs, PPIs (used to treat heartburn and acid reflux), even laxatives, when used over a long period, can damage the kidneys. We are a medication-taking culture, believing as we do that there is an easy fix (a pill) for everything. Newly released data reveal that 76 billion (yes, billion) opioid pills were distributed. Roughly 14% of the general population suffers from some stage of chronic kidney disease, in many cases the result of medications used to treat other real or imagined medical conditions. Yes, there is a pill for everything, everything except stupid.

The rest of us have enlarged prostates.

Tyler, I'm pretty sure that reading more about Bryson's "research habits" would be disappointing.

Bryson's travel books were quite funny. I was surprised when he up and switched to general nonfiction.

The guy has gone completely native in England, agitating for hedgerow preservation and the like. But he hasn't been able to completely master the accent. He's stuck in the American/British uncanny accent valley, very weird.

"But he hasn't been able to completely master the accent." Odd, isn't it? After all there are so many to choose from.

Delivers what, TC? Misleading (in important ways) and irrelevant information? Salvarsan contains arsenic and is toxic. Is this supposed to be noteworthy for a medicine? Gosh, thank goodness aspirin, table salt, and water aren't toxic! Oh wait; yes they are. It is the dose that makes the poison. I don't know what constitutes a "miracle drug", but since prior to the As compound, mercury compounds (!!) were used to treat syphilis, Bryson appears ahistorical here. Salvarsan had to be stored under nitrogen and rapidly degraded when exposed to air. The degradation products were even more toxic than the drug (and were common contaminants due to less than perfect mfg and/or preparation/delivery). In general, the 'ideal' biocide will have a high lethality (toxicity) for its target(s) and a low toxicity for other exposed organisms. (Kinda like the way modern asymmetric warfare CnC evaluates potential collateral damage when deciding when to pull the trigger.) Omission of sulfanilamide from this is a sloppy blunder, imho.

I've never met anyone who read a Bryson book for the scientific accuracy, as opposed to an enjoyable read. I assume the readers know they aren't getting high-end which is probably why they read him in the first place.

I agree. His "At Home" is one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read. I feel like complaining about questionable scientific accuracy is like complaining that stand-up comedians aren't giving you scientific accuracy or that the Daily Show on Comedy Central does not deliver "unbiased" news.

Sounds like a perfect candidate for a conversation with Tyler when he does his book tour in the fall. Guaranteed to sell out a public venue too.

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