The way things work : human body edition
December 16, 2018 3:06 PM   Subscribe

I want to read a book to better understand how the human body functions, and how to figure out, at a basic level, what’s wrong with it.

I’m not sure how to search for a book like this. Ideally, it would have an up to date science on the basics of the human body (say the digestive system, or muscles and bones), answers to common things (like why is a nose bleeding in certain circumstances, and what to do with it), and a framework for thinking through minor medical issues (checklists would be fine, but I’d love a more generic approach too).
Another way to describe it would be like a cookbook that doesn’t have recipes, but gives you a deep understanding of the basics of cooking so you can apply them to existing recipes. Think Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat or Ratio; but for health.
Does such a book exist ?
posted by motdiem2 to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I think the Mayo Clinic Family Health Book was the giant reference book I used to answer questions like those for myself before the web became a better source, and it seems to have a recently-revised edition.
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:15 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's a great book called The History Of The Human Body by Daniel lieberman, I think you might enjoy it.
posted by smoke at 3:44 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Body Has A Head by Gustav Eckstein has what you want and gets great reviews on Goodreads. Apparently out of print now but libraries might still have it.
posted by JonJacky at 5:13 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Body in Question by Dr. Jonathan Miller.
posted by Rash at 7:03 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Where There is No Doctor might fit the bill.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 12:21 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you’re looking for something more like a reference book you might try the Merck Manual. It’s designed to look up specific conditions or symptoms with contextual information on a wide range of body systems.
posted by forkisbetter at 1:26 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Human Body: Its Structure and Operation; Revised and Expanded Edition, by Isaac Asimov

I just read this last year, because I could find no better book on the subject. Asimov updated it just before he died, so it is current as of 22 years ago. For anatomy and physiology, that is pretty current. It's great virtue is that it is Asimov, who has a clean, clear mind and prose to match.

I wonder why no one writes books bringing adults up to speed on basic science any more.

What sticks in my head from the book is that it turns out that egg fertilization is not accomplished by pure competition among sperm after all. Fertilization does not usually take place at all if the number of sperm cells in ejaculate drops lower than 150 million. 149 million sperm is enough to deliver at least one to the egg. It looks, or looked in 1996, like the other sperm cells are necessary to bring enzyme levels up to levels adequate to unlock the egg's outer membranes.

It looks like the whole Round Table sets out together, they work collectively to solve the riddle of the citadel, and then the maiden chooses one. When you think of it, it was never at all clear what indication a sperm cell's relative vigor would give of the relative value of its particular half-set of chromosomes.
posted by ckridge at 6:48 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

This only applies to half of us, but Natalie Angier's WOMAN: An Intimate Geography is clearly and elegantly written.
posted by Jesse the K at 2:22 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

For future reference for anyone looking at these answers. Late to the party, but I got a copy of The Body Has A Head by Gustav Eckstein and it is terrible. It hasn't been updated since the 1980s and relies on stuff like Freud rather than neuroscience. It's full of purple prose too. The section on how women ovulate has a bunch of metaphorical stuff about trimming the wicks of candles (?!) and stuff about the feminine visage and mind. Real old school sexist garbage. That's as far as I looked, because I don't need any more antiquated ideas about women in my brain.
posted by purple_bird at 12:58 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the update purple_bird ! It turns out it is quite difficult to find a book that is both recent , comprehensive and readable... I'll be skimming a few of the suggestions here and keep looking and update if with my feedback.

And thank you all for your answers: I feel they're putting me on the right path, but I haven't figured out the best one yet :-)
posted by motdiem2 at 5:11 AM on January 11

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