Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Mary Roach
"One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year....Gross, educational, and unexpectedly sidesplitting."—Entertainment WeeklyStiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way. In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries—from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.


Reviewed: 2020-02-14
What an excellent book! Highly recommended! I would love it if Mary Roach wrote another book investigating all of the advancements and new protocols from the time of this book's publication in 2003!
Reviewed: 2018-05-26

A fascinating dive into the many possibilities for our husks once we leave this mortal coil. I also appreciated the hilarious side commentary of the author, even though I will probably never eat Rice Krispies in milk ever again...

Reviewed: 2018-03-22
Note(1): This book discusses death and bodies. It also includes a lot of 'black humour'.
Note(2): This book also includes the use of animals in scientific experiments that may upset some readers

I loved this book. I also love when authors can make me love non-fiction books.

“Cadavers are our superheroes: They brave fire without flinching, withstand falls from tall buildings and head-on car crashes into walls. You can fire a gun at them or run a speedboat over their legs, and it will not faze them. Their heads can be removed with no deleterious effect. They can be in six places at once.”

This book covers a lot of disgusting, cringe-worthy, uncomfortable, and confronting topics. I mean, it's a book about cadavers, so if you haven't braced yourself for that you may be in for a shock.

This book also contains a LOT of super interesting information - information that is historical, experimental, practical, and unthinkable.

When talking about cadavers, it is not surprising that there is a lot of medical and scientific subjects discussed. And yet, Roach's unique injection of dark humour, throughout makes this truly a unique and interesting read.

While some readers may find it inappropriate, gaudy, or cringe-worthy to include humour while discussing such topics, I found it fitting. Dark humour is a common way in which humans make themselves comfortable while dealing with the idea of death, and it makes a unique addition to a piece of writing (not that I know of many other non-textbook writing that covers such topics).

As well as the interesting discussions of the many ways in cadavers live on and participate in the human society, I found Roach's explanations of how those in the cadaver field deal with this day-to-day particularly interesting and revealing. She does a great job in shifting your perception of the cadaver as a dead ex-person, in which one may attach emotions, to a vessel which is and never was the person who once resided in it.

All in all I loved this book, and everything I learnt from it. I love how Roach made such a confronting topic one that is accessible and perhaps even enjoyable to the general public. And it has given me a lot to think about with what may become of my body once I am done using it.
Reviewed: 2017-05-14
It's disturbing and gross, but never boring.

Animal lovers might have trouble with some of the research discussed, though.
Reviewed: 2015-10-31
I LOVE the way this author writes! She's a hoot! Very enjoyable and entertaining treatment of a topic that many of us would like to just simply ignore. As expected, perfectly disgusting in spots. If you can make it through the first two chapters, then you are home free. I listened to the audio version, and it was GREAT!
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