Reading Resolution: “The Sawbones Book” by Justin McElroy and Dr. Sydnee McElroy

12. A non-fiction book: The Sawbones Book: The Hilarious, Horrifying Road to Modern Medicine by Justin McElroy and Dr. Sydnee McElroy

List Progress: 4/30

Going from creating in one medium to another is difficult. What comes across as relaxed and off-the-cuff in an audio medium can seem sloppy and unrefined in type. The expectations of a book are very different from those of a podcast, even a nonfiction podcast, and not every creator is going to be able to bridge that gap. Unfortunately, Justin and Sydnee McElroy are not able to thread that needle with The Sawbones Book: The Hilarious, Horrifying Road to Modern Medicine, an adaptation of their popular medical history podcast, Sawbones. The content is largely pulled from the podcast, but so is the style, so directly that there is no real modification for the new format. Pair that with the fact the book appears to have been edited with a chainsaw (even the Revised and Updated for 2020 edition), and this book just doesn’t feel ready for shelves.

The premise of Sawbones is that Dr. Sydnee Smirl McElroy, a physician, is exploring medical history with her husband Justin McElroy, a podcaster and comedian with no medical background. They find weird and gross stories, explore the ways that humans have muddled their way towards knowledge over the eons, and correct modern-day misconceptions that still persist. Justin’s natural, joking tone works well in the podcast to keep it from becoming too dark or technical, but ends up feeling forced in print, even when relegated to little pop-up bubbles. A more straight-forward approach would have served the work better, letting the humor come from the inherent absurdity of the subject matter. There is also almost no analysis of the topics. That would be fine for a book of trivia, but many of the chapters seem like they are building to a larger point, only to end in a shrug.

The editing in this book is egregious. There are maybe a dozen obvious typos and errors, and that’s in a revised edition that was released after the initial was widely criticized for being even messier. The 2020 edition also contains an opening chapter containing plague history, to relate to Covid-19, but the tone is so smug that even if you agree with every point they are making, you resent it. The latter half, which presumably had more time with an editor, fares better, but not by much. 

The Sawbones book won’t offend or dissuade any fans of the podcast from continuing to listen, but they would be well-advised to stick with the McElroys in their element. They might be able to make other books in the future, but they need a lot more guidance and help to break into the world of the written world.

Would I Recommend It: Not really. Keep listening to Sawbones, but skip the book.

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