The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Book - 2003
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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. 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.
ISBN: 9780393050936
Characteristics: 303 pages :,illustrations ;,22 cm.


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Nov 28, 2018

I loved this book so much! I am not a huge fan of nonfiction, but this one blew me away. Mary Roach's snarky and honest approach to the science of death keeps you wanting more. In fact, I have read or listened to all of her novels since! Do yourself a favor and try any of her books out. Word of warning, though for this title: don't read it while eating anything...

Aug 26, 2018

This was the Washington State University common reading book of 2008-2009. It is truly a great read! However, be warned, it can be a bit... gruesome.

Jul 23, 2018

Entertaining book on a macabre subject & who used cadavers as in investigating tool from medical students doctors, military officers, aircraft investigator(?), to automobile makers. Nice chapters on trying to verify cannibalism in news stories & what author's opinion on how author's last wishes after looking at all the alternatives disappointing various people wanting her body for science or for profit (Infamous Bodyworks exhibit).

Jul 07, 2018

Mary Roach managed to present normally uncomfortable information in an interesting way that didn’t feel wrong. It’s a tough topic, but she added humor so as to not drag down the entire book, and it worked in my opinion. How society treats and uses the dead after they pass is something that can’t be ignored or minimized, and it’s a worthwhile read to understand the history of it and where the future could take us.

KungFuAndrew Apr 30, 2018

Unlike most of the reviewers here (and the people I know who've read it), I didn't care for Stiff. In case you care, here's a few reasons why:
- Lots of stories of animal cruelty in the name of science - that might have been tolerable if she just didn't talk about everything in such a "fun" manner, making jokes & wisecracks all along the way. Sometimes you need to be serious.
- She went off topic often, talking about all manner of things that didn't pertain to the book, perhaps she needed filler. And when she stayed on topic, it seemed like all the stories were so similar - there's only so many things you can write about cadavers, I guess. A long magazine article would have been more concise and more interesting.
- I love humorous books, but didn't like her style of humor - she seemed like one of those smart ass kids you knew growing up, always saying something for a laugh even if it didn't get one. But perhaps you'll enjoy it if you like "funny" footnotes and anecdotes about farting and pooping and penises.
Watch where you step!

Mar 26, 2018

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. What a fascinating read! After working in the funeral industry for a couple of years, this book was, in a lot of ways, familiar to me. There were things I was wondering about that Mary Roach, the author, in her thorough research, answered for me. This book, though, is not for the squeamish. It was a gift given to me from my beautiful wife, who thought it best to add to my knowledge of the deceased. I now know the order of decomposition of a human body, the many ways a body can be used for medicinal cannibalism, what happens to a body when we hit water at a high velocity, and so forth. I am interested in reading more books authored by Mary Roach. Excellent writing, very thorough and well thought out. I can see why Stiff, as the cover proclaims, is a New York Times bestseller.

Nov 29, 2017

Fantastic read! Mary Roach gives a unique perspective to a topic that many people are uncomfortable with or don't want to talk about. She provides wonderful humor in a book that spares no detail with corpses.

Jun 08, 2017

Mary Roach is a great author, and I enjoy all of her books, no matter what the topic!

May 23, 2017

I wasnt as intrigued with this as other people were. Its possible I didnt give it enough time seeing how I didnt even finish the book.

Oct 26, 2016

The book is researched well and covers a lot of ground. Roach does a good job of balancing respect for the dead and a bit of irreverence. I grew up with a nurse and some of her humor reminds me of what I heard from my mom and her friends. Personally, I'm interested in being composted and being used to grew at least one tree so that it can be turned into books. That's definitely a green choice.

If you're squeamish, do not read this book. It's about dead bodies, which is plainly given in the title. I skipped the chapter on plane accidents because I'm not always comfortable flying and the chapter unnerved me a bit. I don't think I missed anything by doing so. I don't understand why people read/watch/listen to things they know will bother them and then complain about it, which I've seen with this book.

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Jan 29, 2013

funny and engaging. a terrific overview of the life (?) of a corpse. from crash dummy, to being on display as a plastinated piece of art in a museum to helping forensic anthropologists determine rate of decay . we all die, we all end as corpses. sometimes even dead we have a life!

nftaussig Sep 05, 2012

Mary Roach, a journalist, describes various ways cadavers are used or have been used historically. In a series of sketches, Roach visits sites where cadavers are used, describes what she witnesses, and interviews the people who work with cadavers. She discusses the use of cadvers by surgeons who wish to improve their techniques without harming a patient; how cadavers have been procured historically, including a discussion of medical colleges relying on body snatchers; the decay process of cadavers and its use in forensics; the use of cadavers to test safety features in cars; how cadavers are used to determine the cause of airplane accidents; the use of cadavers to determine the impact of bullets and bombs; the use of cadavers by scholars interested in crucifixion; organ donation; the possibility of head transplants; cannibalism; various methods of disposing of dead bodies. In the final chapter, the author muses about how she would like her own body to be disposed.

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nftaussig Sep 05, 2012

nftaussig thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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mvkramer Jul 12, 2016

Other: The only chapter that really disturbed me was the one about Soviet head-transplant experiments on dogs. Yeesh. Trigger warning for animal cruelty and mad science.


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