The To-Read Pile

There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…

Big Review: Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach


Big Review: Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

My husband is a bit of an unashamed space nerd. We went to Kennedy Space Centre together once and paid out the extra to have lunch with an astronaut (which we then missed out on because they were inducting astronauts into the Hall of Fame that day). Two years ago, while waiting to catch a plane, we killed some time in the airport bookshop. I picked up 1222 by Anne Holt and he bought this. And then never read it.

He might be a space nerd, but he isn’t quite as much of a book nerd as I am. It’s okay. I love him anyway.

I was looking for something completely different to read after The Bellwether Revivals and this jumped out at me from the shelf where it had been retired. It’s essentially a scientific investigation into the effects of space travel on the human body and psyche and what research has been done into solutions for the resulting issues.

What I liked:

Mary Roach isn’t afraid to deal with issues that other writers might skirt around. She seems to realise that everyone wants to know how you use a toilet in space (carefully!), what happens if you’re sick in your space suit (nothing good!) and all the other disgusting details. There’s no subject that she won’t tackle and she’s refreshingly candid.

The book also deals with a lot of the details of space exploration that I hadn’t thought of and contains lots of really interesting information. It’s clear that the author did a ton of research and spoke to a lot of people. She presents these in an informal anecdotal sort-of way, which keeps the book from descending into a dry list of facts and details.

She’s also really, really funny. I laughed so much while I was reading this and I learned so much too. It really feels like you get to know her as you’re reading the book and she comes across as someone who is a lot of fun and not afraid to seem stupid for the sake of science.

I know I mention this all the time in my reviews but this book has a great cover. I work in the book trade so I can tell you that, despite the whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” adage, a book with a great cover is more likely to get picked up than one without. I just loved this one with the astronaut’s suitcase and all of his luggage floating away.

What I didn’t like:

This book definitely ought to come with a warning that it is not suitable for faint hearts (or faint stomachs) and I would definitely not advise trying to read it whilst eating (or digesting) food. There were a couple of times when I had to put it down for a while to let the nausea subside and I once gagged while reading it.

If you do have a faint stomach (or heart), you might prefer to skip the chapters on motion sickness, body odour, toilets and space food.


This was a great book and I recommend it for anyone with an interest in space. If you’re thinking about volunteering to go to Mars, you definitely have to read this first. I have personally decided that I am not astronaut material. At all.

I had almost finished this when I discovered that I had previously looked longingly at some of Mary Roach’s other books, Stiff (the science of corpses) and Bonk (the science of sex). She also has a new one coming out this year, Gulp (the science of eating). I’ve added them all to my wish list and, although I’m not buying books right now (1 month down, 11 to go!), will definitely be getting them once I am.


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This entry was posted on February 5, 2013 by in Reviews and tagged , , , .
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