most people consider the hardships of war, they focus on
the fear and the fighting, the noble cause and the
best-selling science writer Mary Roach tackled the
topic, she focused on maggots, stink bombs and diarrhea.
thatís to be expected from Roach, the author known for
her funny, unflinching books about the nitty-gritty
research behind subjects as diverse as death, sex and
a little bit of a loose cannon," admitted Roach,
57, in a recent phone interview about her sixth book,
"Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War."
said she came up with the idea for the new book while on
assignment in India, researching a story about the worldís
hottest chili pepper. She learned that the Indian
defense ministry had actually manufactured a nonlethal
weapon from the pepper, so she headed to the lab to
check it out.
only was there that," explained Roach, speaking
from the Washington, D.C., hotel where she was staying
while on her book tour. "They were working on a
leech repellent and that was right up my alley."
planted in my head this idea that military science is a
whole hidden world related to the day-to-day hardships
of being a warrior," she added.
book, published by W.W. Norton & Co., takes a close
look at how scientists are working to help soldiers cope
with the other enemies in a war zone, including
sweltering heat, cacophonous noise and what Roach
describes as "ill-timed gastrointestinal
in her other books, Roach goes to straight to the
sources, whether itís to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti,
East Africa, or under the sea in the nuclear submarine
USS Tennessee. Seeing the places in person is vital, she
I donít have a narrative," she explained.
"You can have quotes from talking heads on the
phone, but the reader isnít led into details with
conversations and character."
is everything, explained Roach. For this book, she
wanted to cover an Army medevac operation, but couldnít
get approval. Instead, she covers the training in a
chapter on realistic military simulations.
has everything to do with whether I can go somewhere and
observe something that will be fresh and
surprising," Roach said.
approaches her subjects as an outsider, someone with no
formal scientific training ó she has a bachelorís
degree in psychology. She simply asks the
sometimes-gross questions everybody wonders about.
a chapter in "Grunt" on work to perfect penis
transplants for soldiers whose genitals are mutilated in
battle. And, yes, a chapter on why diarrhea can be a
threat to national security.
takes two to three years to research and write a book
and said sheís divided about which part of the process
is most enjoyable.
reporting is amazing," she said. "If it isnít
fun, I donít include it. Iím a very self-indulgent
may think the author of "Stiff: The Curious Lives
of Human Cadavers," "Bonk: The Curious
Coupling of Science and Sex" and "Gulp:
Adventures on the Alimentary Canal," would have a
long list of one-word subjects just waiting to be
Roach said she often finishes one book without knowing
what the next will be. In a recent interview with
"Fresh Air" host Terry Gross on National
Public Radio, Roach mused that she might someday tackle
the science of aging.
she suggested her next title: "Geezer."