0691 | Touch | David Linden

non-fiction

This has the subtitle The Science of the Sense that Makes Us Human, but nowhere in it will you find an explanation as to why touch apparently makes us any more human than, say, salmon.

Nevertheless, Touch has all you ever wanted to know about how we (humans) feel. This ranges from the physics of how it works to situations when there’s nothing more involved than our mental assumptions. This is an engaging read for the most part, and there’s lots here that I’ll remember.

I’ll not forget the story of M. the woman who lost feeling in her forehead but developed an itch there so bad that she literally scratched through her skull into her brain. I’ll not forget the cutaneous rabbit. I’ll not forget how horrific Onchocersiasis is, (although I might forget how to say it) and I’ll not forget that no other species has five-year-old offspring that cannot survive independently. Even salmon.

However, I’ve already forgotten what TNF alpha signalling is, exactly what temperatures TRPV1 and TRPM8 are associated with and what the anterior cingulate cortex does.

But it doesn’t matter. There’s an awful lot of interesting stuff here so that, if the technical explanations get the better of you, you can just gloss over that page or so and you’ll find yourself in something far more fascinating. Linden writes pretty well and keeps things bouncing along.

However, while I don’t object to the use of footnotes, he can’t seem to make up his mind what they’re for. Because of that, you have to turn to every single one of them to see whether it’s a simple reference to an experiment or an entire page of information about what you’ve just read. And as his 210 pages have no fewer than 247 footnotes, this gets, shall we say, on one’s nerves.

I think it’s safe to say that you can probably skip over them completely or, if that makes you feel guilty, gloss over them at the end of each chapter. You’ll not miss out a huge amount by omitting them. This is an interesting book which, probably due to the large number of popular science books out there, will hardly make any impression in the annals of popular science literature. It’s worth a read though if you feel inclined.

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