Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach was originally published in 2003. My paperback copy has 294 pages. I read Stiff with equal parts fascination, amusement, and queasiness. Stiff is a very interesting and engrossing nonfiction book. Roach explores the various ways cadavers have been used, from teaching anatomy, to crash tests, to cannibalism. Roach is funny, of that there is no doubt, and her humor made the book easier for me to read. I will admit that even while laughing at Roach's witticisms and being totally fascinated with the information, I also experienced an almost constant feeling of nausea with hints of revulsion. Rating: 4.5

Synopsis from cover:
Stiff 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. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.
"The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back." opening

"This book is about the sometimes odd, often shocking, always compelling things cadavers have done." pg. 10

"There are those who will disagree with me, who feel that to do anything other than bury or cremate the dead is disrespectful." pg. 11

"For those who must deal with human corpses regularly, it is easier (and I suppose, more accurate) to think of them as objects, not people." pg. 21

"Medical schools have gone out of their way in the past decade to foster a respectful attitude toward gross anatomy lab cadavers." pg. 38

"Over the past sixty years, the dead have helped the living work out human tolerance limits for skull slammings and chest skewerings, knee crammings, and gut mashings: all the ugly, violent things that happen to a human being in a car crash." pg. 87

"Until recently, the process was known among transplant professionals as an 'organ harvest,' which had a joyous, celebratory ring to it, perhaps a little too joyous, as it has been of late replaced by the more businesslike 'organ recovery.' " pg. 168

"_____ is not a doctor, or not, at least, one of the medical variety. He is a doctor of the variety that gets a Ph.D. and attaches it to his name on self-help book covers." pg. 191

"In the grand bazaars of twelfth-century Arabia, it was occasionally possible, if you knew where to look and you had a lot of cash and a tote bag you didn't care about, to procure an item known as mellified man.... Mellified man was dead human remains steeped in honey." pg. 221

"It took a month and a half for compost guy to complete his return to the soil. Evans was pleased with the result, which he described as 'really dark, rich stuff, with good moisture-holding capacity.'....Evans was living in Lawrence, Kansas, at the time..." pg. 265-266


Lisa said...

I read this one a couple years ago, and really enjoyed it. It did feel wierd to enjoy something about death, but once I got over that I was all in. This year I read Bonk by the same author, and while it was good, it wasn't AS good.

Lori L said...

While I thought the book was very interesting, I never could get over the queasiness brought on by the subject matter. The one chapter I was completely ok with was the one on organ recovery. Other than that, I know for sure that I could never have a career around cadavers.

Anonymous said...

I followed this up by reading Body Farm which was equally as fascinating and revolting.