Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

I’m a pathologist, so buying this book was a no-brainer for me. 

  

Mary Roach is a science writer, originally from New Hampshire, whose previous lives took her through freelance copy editing and public relations at the San Francisco Zoo!

“Stiff” was her first book, released in 2003. It shares the findings from her exploration of the current uses of human cadavers, as well as anecdotes about the 2,000 year history of the cadaver industry. 

She covers everything you could possibly ever want to know (or maybe not) about cadavers, from body snatching to “how to know if you’re dead”. If you’ve always thought you’d prefer to simply be buried after death, it’s worth checking out Roach’s review of the body’s decay process. You may just change your mind! Reading about the alternative lives of cadavers, you too might even prefer that something much cooler could happen to your body after you die! 

Many of us hate to think about death in general, and certainly many immediately reject the idea of donating their body to medical research without further consideration. “Stiff”, however, is a great book for reminding us just how important this donation could be: “For every cadaver that rode the crash sleds to test three-point seat belts, 61 lives per year have been saved. For every cadaver that took an airbag in the face, 147 people per year survive otherwise fatal head-ons. For every corpse whose head has hammered a windshield, 68 lives per year are saved.” 

It’s become one of my favorite books since I bought it a few years ago. Although written with constant injections of humor from start to finish (even down to the chapter titles), Mary Roach’s commentary of the postmortem life of bodies is also extremely respectfully written. Her jokes are not at the expense of the dead, but are rather directed at the absurdity of our attitudes toward death. It’s brutally honest, tremendously gruesome at times, yet always thoroughly entertaining. 

It was one of those disturbingly fascinating reads that I couldn’t wait to pick up, didn’t want to put down, and certainly hated finishing! I’ve actually bought many copies since as gifts for friends, who also loved it. And you don’t need to have any background in science to enjoy this book, although it’s definitely not a read for the faint hearted (or for those who nauseate easily)! 

In the words of the author herself: “Death. It doesn’t have to be boring”. 

Read it. It may just change your death.

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Posted on July 16, 2011, in Books and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What an amazing book. I can see why you would want to buy copies for friends. So refreshing to see this side of death. Something we are all fascinated by but rarely get to discuss. I love all the humour. I have many funny stories I would love to share with you (maybe not here LOL)of friends and family who would be delighted to know that they kept on entertaining long after they’d gone.

    • Haha! Good to hear that you have friends and family who have kept on giving after they’d gone – Good for them! This book really is a gem though, Heather – a very refreshing look at death, and also a wonderful way to maybe persuade some folk to at least consider donating their body to science after death.

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