Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Book Review

Written with humor, Mary Roach's Stiff is an interesting look at the uses of human cadavers past, present and future.

Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is not for everyone. This book, a non-fiction look into the uses of human cadavers past, present and future, was different than my typical read and will likely be for yours, too. Our book club reviewed it and for some, the subject matter was simply too uncomfortable during a difficult time or even at any time. For others, like myself, it was an interesting endeavor.

The official book description says that the book touches on morality, ethics and spirituality and it does but it is really a look at the science of the uses of the cadaver. With chapter titles like A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste, Crimes of Anatomy and Life After Death you will learn about surgery performed on the dead, body snatching, human dissection and human decay. You will learn about how the human body has been used to test France's guillotines, how it has been a guest on NASA space shuttles, how it has helped uncover causes of airplane crashes, how it has improved automobile safety and, of course, much more.

Mary Roach's Stiff shares the science of how the human cadaver has been used in the past, present and future. Sometimes gross, sometimes funny, always very interesting.

On the back of the book, Entertainment Weekly calls Stiff  "gross, educational and unexpectedly sidesplitting." I agree. Mostly. This book is at times unnerving, always teaching and told with a great deal of humor though the subject matter keeps it from being exactly what I would call "unexpectedly sidesplitting. I guess it delivers the science in a slightly dark but humorous way.

Morbid Monday calls it a "one-stop book for everything you ever wanted to know - or never wanted to know - about dead bodies." Touché!  There is a lot to think about here. I did find the book tough going at times but I also found it very interesting. I knew nothing about the actual scientific process that allows doctors to transfer organs from a dead body to that of an organ recipient. Do you? If not, you should read this book. The introduction is quite funny, the first chapter is tough but tough it out and see if you find the overall subject interesting if perhaps also "gross."

I recommend this book if you are looking for something outside of your usual fare, if you want to expand your reading subject matter and if you are willing to push you way through some unpleasantness though of course, you could skip any chapters that really disturb you. Each chapter stands alone.

Will you donate your body to science? Should you? Definitely something to think about and Stiff will definitely leave you thinking. Not everyone in my book club read it or cared for it but some like myself did find it quite interesting. If you think you might be one of them, you can find your copy of Stiff here on Amazon.

See you
at the bookstore! 

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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, A Book Review

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  1. I am convinced that most of us are not "cut out" to be doctors or research scientists. I know a lot of people who are squeamish over blood. For some, it is difficult to dissect a frog much less a human body. I think I fall somewhere in-between, which means I would most likely find sections of this book difficult to read, just like you. However, forensic science fascinates me, therefore it is a book I would definitely like to "try" to read. Thank you for recommending this book!

    1. You are welcome, Cynthia. I definitely would not have been able to work in the medical profession!

  2. Sounds intriquing, although I'm not sure it would be for me. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Brenda, great review. Tis is perfect. I can't wait to read it. You see, I used to work for a Medical Examiner and typed his autopsy reports. I used to discuss interesting cases with my hubby at dinnertime, which naturally grossed out my teenage kids! :) I worked in Pathology at a hospital and even attended an autopsy to 'see in person' what certain words in an autopsy report looked like. Forensic Science is very important in determining cause of death at times and even in determining whether a death was natural or a homicide. And the 'dark' humor - that's absolutely needed to give perspective to what can be a difficult job. This is definitely a book I look forward to reading!

    1. Wow, Pat, that is very interesting and what a tough job you had though it sounds like it was right up your alley.

  4. When my sister was in medical school, she and her fellow med students used to give the cadavers they dissected names that lended themselves to wordplay, such as Shop (so they could say, “It’s time to close up shop.”). The dark humor was a coping mechanism that allowed these young adults the necessary emotional detachment from these corpses required to work with and learn from them intimately day after day.

    I’m not sure whether I have the ability to emotionally detach myself enough to get through this book, but it is, without doubt, important and fascinating reading. Thanks so much for sharing your review!

    1. Interesting, Margaret and I definitely understand people coming up with coping methods to work in this field!

  5. Brenda, this sounds like a book that I might just have to pick up. My other half worked in Pathology and I heard many harrowing tales sometimes of things gone wrong. This book sound like it just might interest him and me. Thanks for this recommendation!

  6. You are welcome, Olivia. Stiff definitely sounds like something that might interest your husband.


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