Spare Parts: In Praise of Your Appendix and Other Unappreciated Organs
Here is a book that within just a few pages draws us into the prehistory of mummification, Leonardo da Vinci’s defiance of the ban on human dissection, and a chronology of the discovery, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. After a first chapter on the appendix, our best-known appendage, the author launches into a discussion of body hair. We learn we have as many hairs on our body as a chimpanzee, though ours from neck to belly button are almost invisibly fine. Traveling down the body further gives rise to a whole new set of issues that can’t be adequately discussed in a short review.
Rinzler relishes evoking the senses, mercifully omitting taste, particularly the sense of smell included in a segment on “smelly ears – smelly armpits.” Reading Spare Parts at mealtime won’t help the digestion. Nonetheless, the book offers a mesmerizing perspective. There is unparalleled information, both arcane and titillating, like finding out, for example, how the term “goosebumps” is expressed in 20 foreign languages.
Admitting she is diverted along the “literary sideways and byways down whose paths we may travel thanks to the oddity of the subject at hand,” Rinzler shares knowledge drawn from her previous books on health. Before we are overwhelmed, she categorizes broadly the body parts considered vital and irreplaceable, vital and replaceable, equally vital but redundant, and examples of those we use but can live without.
Carol Ann Rinzler