Much of military science is necessarily preoccupied with the study of violence, the development of strategy, of weapons and armaments, of warfare. But not all the battles of war involve drone technology and Bradley Personnel Vehicle. On a daily basis, soldiers also fight more esoteric battles against less considered adversaries—for example, exhaustion, shock, panic, disease, extreme heat, cataclysmic noise, gastrointestinal distress, and assorted waterfowl.
In Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, America’s favorite science writer, Mary Roach—the author of Stiff, Spook, Bonk, Packing for Mars, and Gulp—explores those aspects of war that no one makes movies about—not the killing but the keeping alive. Grunt salutes the scientists and surgeons running along in the wake of combat, lab coats flapping. With her characteristic sense of humor, her indefatigable enthusiasm, and her sharp eye for telling detail, Roach, as always, proves to be the ideal tour guide, whether observing two maggots devour a third on the tip of her index finger, courtesy of George Peck, resident filth fly expert at the Entomology Branch of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research; sniffing Stench Soup, a superlative malodorant (i.e., stink bomb) described as “Satan on a throne of rotting onions,” designed to efficiently clear buildings or disperse violent mobs; or attending medic training with the $57,000 Strategic Operations Cut Suit, a “human-worn” patient simulator with skin that actually “bleeds” when pierced. At this Science on Tap, Roach will talk about her book and will introduce us to a range of quirky but essential scientific endeavors.