Allie Ford Reviews And Then You’re Dead: The world’s most interesting ways to die
And Then You’re Dead: The world’s most interesting ways to die by Paul Doherty and Cody Cassidy
Cassidy and Doherty set out to investigate the science behind some of the less conventional ways the human body can be damaged beyond viability. Their book covers 45 different scenarios, from being eaten by a whale (note, if this method appeals to you, you need to choose one of the few whales that has the capacity to actually swallow a human), through to barrelling over Niagara Falls. Most explanations are short – 2-5 pages, with plenty of science packed in. It’s not totally clear who the target audience for this book is, but I’d place it in squarely in the teenage market, mostly plying for the interest of Horrible Histories fans. I originally thought my review copy would be a great gift for my Scientists in Schools teacher partner, but several of the explanations are definitely not something a primary teacher would want to read out to the class (Teachers: do not read your class the part about falling from the Pringles factory catwalk unless you have a lot of sick bags to hand).
I wanted to like this book. I really, really did. I loved Stiff by Mary Roach and was hoping for something similar. I didn’t get it. There were three points I found it difficult to get past.
The minor problem I had is that the book is very American. Temperatures are presented as ’28 degrees’ with no units and no conversion. Discussing how floating in an ocean at 28 degrees might be immediately life threatening might make sense to an American, but to an Aussie or a European it just implies a good time to go for a swim. Given the copious use of footnotes in this book, it would have been easy to include conversions, and in my opinion it’s criminal for a book written by scientists to omit units! If footnotes or conversions were too clunky, the Australian print run should have included relevant adjustments. (It has printers in both Australia and the US, according to the copyright information).
That’s my minor gripe and I could just about live with it. My major gripe is that the book seems to have been written with no real plan. There is very little organisation of the modes of death. They jump between the biological and the cosmological, then back again: the first discussion in the book is about being eaten by sharks, while a similar few pages about being eaten by a whale comes in on page 204. This lack of organisation means that some points are made over and over (how pressure affects the face, intestines and lungs, for example), while other equally interesting (but possibly less gory) concepts get lost. The few sections where there has been some thought for organisation work really nicely (the pages systematically covering the consequences of time travel to different points in Earth’s formation and history stand out as one of the best parts of the book). Unfortunately most of the book is just a brain dump of ideas with no consideration of the overall picture.
The book also seems to forget its title in places. There are quite a few modes of death that I doubt many people have ever considered (“What if you were killed by this book”?), which seem to have been contrived so the authors can discuss a particular theory or idea. (One point considers the book suddenly travelling towards us at mach 10 – with no explanation of why mach 10 is relevant to anything).
This was a book with a huge amount of promise, but a lack of planning, organisation and definition of its audience has made it something of a frustrating mess. It would be ok to dip in and out of the explanations from time to time, but I wouldn’t recommend reading it from start to finish in a short period of time. If you’re a parent or a teacher, you might also want to make sure you check the book out before agreeing to read it to (or let it be read by) young children. On the other hand, if you have a teen who is more interested in gore than in science, they could probably learn quite a bit from this book.
Allie fell in love with science when she spotted test tubes full of different coloured solutions at high school. She studied astrophysics and chemistry at university. She taught Bioastronomy for several years, as well as being an active participant in the Science in Schools program, and touring Australia as a cast member in the RiAus/BBC Science of Doctor Who Live show. Allie loves reading and learning new things, often ‘helped’ by her two parrots (who prefer eating books to reading them).