Rupa Marya and Raj Patel
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2021
Marya and Patel have written an anatomy book like none I ever read. While their book is a tour of the human body like any study of anatomy, their examination of the human body relates it to the world by using a tour of our varied systems. By examining our varied biological systems such as our digestive system they use history, current events, medical knowledge, and more to show how our bodies and environment are inflamed, and the inflammation is not a healthy one.
While the book is steeped in the authors’ wisdom of medicine, they make it easy to comprehend by relating our bodies to ordinary things. For instance, Chapter 2 examines the Circulatory System and they relate it to rivers and the pump of this system is salmon. With this, they use the damage done to rivers and salmon runs to demonstrate how we have inflamed the lives of many parts of the world, but especially the American west. They show how the damming of rivers such as the McCloud River have not only damaged the salmon (the heart) but that damage has expanded into inflammation of not only local indigenous people, but the world. Because of the harmful work of men like Livingston Stone, the life cycles of Chinook salmon are forever changed-in a negative and frightful way.
The sad tale of the Chinook salmon I knew, but I had never heard of Livingston Sone, so I did some internet searching and discovered that our government continues his harmful ways. There is even a salmon hatchery named after him where man makes another poor attempt to replicate nature by breeding salmon. These bred salmon lack the genetic diversity of salmon bred in the wild and the authors compare this fool’s errand to the Irish Potato Famine. The argument is well made that man’s interference in the ancient relationships of land, water, air, and humans will ultimately lead to disaster.
Marya and Patel have well documented their book, and the “Notes”, as in other well researched books, are often as interesting as the text. Also, the book is packed with, what was for me, novel names, facts, and insightful statements. Because of such horrific events as the Capitol Insurrection they write on page 169: “Fascism turns everyone into police.” They also do not shy away from the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrate how it is another example of the inflammation that threatens us all.