OLLI Instructor Roy Meals Publishes Book on Bones

Orthopedic surgeon, Roy A. Meals, is an OLLI instructor who teaches the annual course, All About Bone. Early in his career, he developed a deep respect for human bone, especially for “its amazing constitution and the way it grows and heals.” So when he proposed his OLLI course in June 2017, he said teaching about bone would be a way to help him write a book about bone, a project he said he had been drafting in his head for more than 40 years.

We are happy to announce that his long-awaited book, Bones: Inside and Out, will be published this October. The book, like his course, details bone maladies and treatments as well as the second life of bones and how paleontologists, archaeologists, and anthropologists use bone to interpret Earth’s history.

In the book’s first section, Bone Concealed, Dr. Meals demystifies how bones grow, break, and heal and compares the particulars of human bone to variations throughout the animal kingdom. He illustrates common bone diseases, like osteoporosis and arthritis, and their treatments. Along the way, he highlights the medical innovations—from the first X-rays to advanced operative techniques—that enhance our lives and introduces the giants of orthopedic surgery who developed them.

In the book’s second section, Bone Revealed, he describes how bone influences paleontology, anthropology, religion, art, and popular culture. Examples range from Adam’s rib to Hamlet’s skull, and he uncovers their enduring presence as fossils, technological tools, and musical instruments ranging from the Tibetan thighbone kangling trumpet to everyday drumsticks.

Dr. Meals confirmed that writing his book while preparing his course helped him look at the organization and content of both from different perspectives:

For instance, the two forms differ in length and supplemental images. I found that working on one improved the logic and clarity of the other. The OLLI members’ questions and insights were particularly helpful in those regards. Most importantly, finishing the book became much easier after teaching the OLLI course because I had that audience in mind as I mentally continued our conversation.

I asked Dr. Meals what inspired him to research and write about the second life of bones. He said his inspiration began at an early age while growing up in Shawnee Mission, Kansas:

While on grade school and Cub Scout trips to the nearby Methodist Indian mission, I learned about the culture of the Plains Indians and saw how they repurposed bone for hunting, plant propagation, food preparation, adornment, and entertainment. In recent years, I have thoroughly enjoyed renewing and intensifying my interest in indigenous cultures and understanding their novel and myriad ways of crafting bone.

Remarkable discoveries have turned up not only at anthropology and natural history museums but also in public and private collections including those devoted to musical instruments, medicine, fine art, and the whaling industry. For example, the Channel Islands Maritime Museum has a collection of exquisitely crafted, highly detailed ship models that French prisoners made from soup bones during the Napoleonic Wars. As a result of so many serendipitous finds, I have become a museum fanatic. I try to visit as many as I can wherever I go, and it is rare that I cannot not find something of interest related to bones. I guess that should not surprise me since bone is so durable and ubiquitous. Nonetheless, I’m always excited to add facts to my collection.

Bones: Inside and Out launches October 20, 2020 and is available at these stores:


Mary Ann Wilson, Program Coordinator

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