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A Journey Through the Changing Human Body
Gavin Francis
Read by Thomas Judd

Hachette Audio
June 2018/ ASIN: B07DGJPSH8
Nonfiction / General / Health / Audiobook – Unabridged / 6 hours and 49 minutes

Reviewed by Leslie C. Halpern


This fascinating look at the human body – ranging from normal everyday functions like laughing and sleeping to bizarre physical occurrences including “werewolves” and “unicorns” -- is presented in 24 short, stand-alone chapters. The author, an Edinburgh, Scotland physician and author of Adventures in Human Being, among others books, shares his knowledge with warmth, compassion, and humor, and with the occasional footnote elaborating some curious tangential idea. Narrator Thomas Judd reads the book with precision and animation, and relays a tone of professionalism while keeping things light.

In addition to the four subjects mentioned above, chapters in Shapeshifters examine conception, bodybuilding, scalp, birth, rejuvenation, tattooing, anorexia, hallucination, puberty, pregnancy, gigantism, gender, jetlag, bone-setting, menopause, castration, prosthetics, memory, death, and transformations. The text contains no dull moments or dry jargon. Professional anecdotes mix with facts, figures, legends, and history to produce an eye-opening account of bodies changing, growing, adapting, healing, and sometimes sickening.

One particularly memorable anecdote involves Francis’s encounter (while still a young medical student) with a female unicorn, i.e., a woman with a two-inch horn growing out of her forehead. After describing his shock at finding what was hidden beneath her hair, he elaborates on horns and unicorns, including their representations in artwork, literature, and history.

Although the good doctor clearly has an interest in pathologies, Francis never presents these curiosities in a way that dehumanizes his patients. While some of the medical conditions might be disturbing, he makes sure to include information on the people suffering from the diseases to remind readers that beneath the symptoms are regular people with feelings that need to be respected.

Reviewed 2018