Stiff
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.

Stiff Details

TitleStiff
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 12th, 2019
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393324822
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Science, Humor, Medical, Health, Medicine

Stiff Review

  • Trevor
    January 1, 1970
    If you can’t cope with the idea of death without a hearty dose of euphemism – this probably isn’t going to be the book for you.When I became an archivist at the City of Melbourne a very dear friend of mine became a technician at the city Morgue. I figured at the time he had watched a couple of episodes too many of Quincy M.E. and that he would find a normal job eventually. It is probably 15 years since I stopped being an archivist – my friend still cuts up dead people for a living. A few weeks a If you can’t cope with the idea of death without a hearty dose of euphemism – this probably isn’t going to be the book for you.When I became an archivist at the City of Melbourne a very dear friend of mine became a technician at the city Morgue. I figured at the time he had watched a couple of episodes too many of Quincy M.E. and that he would find a normal job eventually. It is probably 15 years since I stopped being an archivist – my friend still cuts up dead people for a living. A few weeks after he started work I asked him how it was all going and he replied, “Good, yeah, I can even eat spaghetti now.” Sometimes it is best not to ask.This book is a bit of a career guide for those of us who are post-life. There are a remarkable number of interesting things one can get up to after life. Many of these choices are presented in this book in an up-close-and-personal way that I particularly enjoyed. I’m a fairly robust character, but there were many moments when I made involuntary noises during this book. The swallowed fly was a case in point and by far the worst. The noise I made was loud enough and distressing enough for my daughters to ask what was the matter – they didn’t ask again.Part of my friend’s job involves removing people’s brains – this is also described in some detail here. The problem is that once the brain has been removed you can’t really pop it back from whence it came – so instead it is placed in the chest cavity. This means the head needs to be ‘packed’ and generally this is done with newspaper. One of the decisions made by those putting you back together again is which newspaper would seem most appropriate for you. (I assume in these days of obsessive Orwellian Double-Speak the corpses are called clients or customers or something equally ridiculous – although I wish it was after Waugh and they were called Loved Ones.) I really don’t mind what happens to me once I’m dead – I figure I’m going to be busy enough explaining to God why He doesn’t exist to be worried about what happens to my body – but I must admit that spending eternity with my head stuffed with a Murdoch rag does seem to be a punishment disproportionate to any crime I have committed whilst alive.
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  • Miranda Reads
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating, touching and surprisingly wholesome considering it's about dead bodies Many people will find this book disrespectful. There is nothing amusing about being dead, they will say. Ah, but there is. Mary Roach brings cadavers into a whole new, sometimes painfully bright, light. We follow her as she attends autopsies and medical discussions. We learn what happens to bodies as they decompose on the field, under the field and in so, so many places. The way I see it, being dead is not terrib Fascinating, touching and surprisingly wholesome considering it's about dead bodies Many people will find this book disrespectful. There is nothing amusing about being dead, they will say. Ah, but there is. Mary Roach brings cadavers into a whole new, sometimes painfully bright, light. We follow her as she attends autopsies and medical discussions. We learn what happens to bodies as they decompose on the field, under the field and in so, so many places. 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. We get a bit of a history lesson with the sordid tales associated with body-snatching and the early medicine's need for atomically correct models. We even go so far back as ancient Egypt and their secret honey recipe (you will never look at honey in the same way) (trust me).This is one book you'd have to be dying to miss out on. Death. It doesn't have to be boring. Blog | Instagram | Twitter
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  • Dan Schwent
    January 1, 1970
    Mary Roach writes about what happens when you donate your body to science. Hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity but it is a good dose of edutainment.Way back around the time the earth's crust cooled and life spread across the planet, late 1994 or early 1995, I should think, I visited a chiropractic college with the rest of my Advanced Biology class. This trip was memorable to me for three reasons:1) It was the first time I experienced an excruciating caffeine withdrawal headache2) It was th Mary Roach writes about what happens when you donate your body to science. Hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity but it is a good dose of edutainment.Way back around the time the earth's crust cooled and life spread across the planet, late 1994 or early 1995, I should think, I visited a chiropractic college with the rest of my Advanced Biology class. This trip was memorable to me for three reasons:1) It was the first time I experienced an excruciating caffeine withdrawal headache2) It was the first time I saw a human cadaver3) I smoked five of my classmates playing pool in the student lounge at lunch.Obviously, #2 is the one pertinent to this review, although I am still quite proud of #3. The cadaver I saw had its face covered and its skin looked shriveled, somewhat like beef jerky. My 17 year old mind briefly wondered where the man had come from before my hormone-fueled brain returned my attention to the nubile young ladies in the room. Anyway, let's get down to review business.Mary Roach manages to take a subject that give many people the heebie-jeebies, donating one's remains to science, and makes it humorous at times. She covers such topics as learning surgical techniques via practicing on cadavers, human decomposition, ingesting human remains for medicinal purpose, using corpses in car crash tests, using cadavers for ballistics tests, crucifixion experiments, and even head transplants.While it's not ideal meal-time reading, I didn't find it as stomach churning as some reviewers did. The talk of decomposition and quack remedies of the Middle ages were fascinating and I was really interested in the head and brain transplant experiments. Frankenstein's monster doesn't seem as unrealistic as it did yesterday.Apparently, necrophilia is only illegal in 16 states. Imagine if that was one of your criteria when choosing a place to live. "Honey, I'd love to live in Florida but then we couldn't have our sexy parties..."Actually, the funeral bits were also pretty enlightening. Did you know they have to suture the anus shut to keep nastiness from leaking out during a funeral? Or that dead people can fart from gas trapped in their intestines? Or that they insert special caps underneath the eyelids to keep them from suddenly opening? Fascinating stuff.Stiff is a very interesting read for those interested in what happens when you donate your body to science, softened somewhat by Roach's sense of humor. Three easy stars.
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  • Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin
    January 1, 1970
    Omg and Grossness! I made the mistake of trying to eat a bit while reading this! Just no! And then a part where they talk about left over skin being used for wrinkle stuff and something to do with penises. I didn't even look up the word they used. Although, now, if a penis was ever whipped out somewhere, I would have to wonder if that penis had something to do with cadaver skin! I did have to skip over stuff due to my ewww reflex. But there is a lot of stuff I learned that I had no idea about. T Omg and Grossness! I made the mistake of trying to eat a bit while reading this! Just no! And then a part where they talk about left over skin being used for wrinkle stuff and something to do with penises. I didn't even look up the word they used. Although, now, if a penis was ever whipped out somewhere, I would have to wonder if that penis had something to do with cadaver skin! I did have to skip over stuff due to my ewww reflex. But there is a lot of stuff I learned that I had no idea about. There is a lot of historical stuff too. And the cadaver drive test dummies! I can't even. So if you're one that is going to donate your organs, just know that no part of your body will go to waste. Well, most of it! Mel 🖤
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  • Tung
    January 1, 1970
    In my nonfiction phase during the year, I grabbed this one and after finishing it, regretted its purchase. The book is about medical use of corpses and the human body, present-day and in the past. The subject matter is extremely interesting, and some of the methods, tests, and history behind human body experiments is worth the read. The book makes you want to be an organ donor, or want to donate your body to medical science. The problem is that the author is one of the WORST writers I have ever In my nonfiction phase during the year, I grabbed this one and after finishing it, regretted its purchase. The book is about medical use of corpses and the human body, present-day and in the past. The subject matter is extremely interesting, and some of the methods, tests, and history behind human body experiments is worth the read. The book makes you want to be an organ donor, or want to donate your body to medical science. The problem is that the author is one of the WORST writers I have ever read to the extent that every time I picked up the book I got angry. I only finished the book because my OCD made me finish it because I’d already started it. The two irritating aspects of the book are: 1) Roach would spend a few pages describing something fascinating and then ruin it all by throwing in the snarkiest comment imaginable. For example, she’d discuss how feet are used by scientists, and then throw in a comment about her stinky socks. 2) A few years ago, a friend saw a movie about the roads to concentration camps at the Tribeca Film Festival that was atrocious because the director stuck himself into the film and made himself part of the story. That’s what this author does for the whole friggin’ book. Just awful.
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  • Will Byrnes
    January 1, 1970
    Laugh out loud funny is the way to go if you want to learn more than you realized might be worth knowing about dead bodies. It made me greatly disposed to finding out what else Roach has written, before I become a subject for studies like this one. And here are reviews of what we found:-----Grunt-----Gulp -----Packing for Mars-----Spook
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  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    First read of 2017 complete! It was a good one - 4.5 stars.Who knew that a book about what happens to our bodies after we die could be so interesting. This book covers everything to the horrific to the incredibly fascinating. This book may not be for the squeamish, but I think Roach did a great job combining information and humor in a respectful manner to make it more easily accessible to a wider audience.I recently helped to prepare a funeral plan for my Mother. She is still alive, but it was s First read of 2017 complete! It was a good one - 4.5 stars.Who knew that a book about what happens to our bodies after we die could be so interesting. This book covers everything to the horrific to the incredibly fascinating. This book may not be for the squeamish, but I think Roach did a great job combining information and humor in a respectful manner to make it more easily accessible to a wider audience.I recently helped to prepare a funeral plan for my Mother. She is still alive, but it was suggested that we prepare ahead of time to make sure that all wishes are met and there is no scrambling when the event happens to figure out what is wanted and where the money comes from - less stressful for all! After reading this book, I am not saying I will go back and change any of our decisions, but it definitely gave me a lot of thinking points I would not have considered and may have had an affect on how my decision making went if I had read this before the planning took place.After death - the inanimate body lives on and something has to be done with it - read this if you want to know more!Side note - This is my second Mary Roach (I also read Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal) and I liked this one a bit better.
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  • Kemper
    January 1, 1970
    Mary Roach details a lot of uses for human cadavers in this book, but she missed a major one. As Weekend At Bernies taught us, you can always use the corpse of your boss to scam your way into a free weekend at a beach house. That scientific research is all well and good, but there’s nothing in here at all about the best ways to simulate a life like corpse for your own selfish purposes. I learned more from Andrew McCarthy than I did reading this!Ah, but seriously folks… This is the second book I’ Mary Roach details a lot of uses for human cadavers in this book, but she missed a major one. As Weekend At Bernies taught us, you can always use the corpse of your boss to scam your way into a free weekend at a beach house. That scientific research is all well and good, but there’s nothing in here at all about the best ways to simulate a life like corpse for your own selfish purposes. I learned more from Andrew McCarthy than I did reading this!Ah, but seriously folks… This is the second book I’ve read by Roach, and I admire the way that she can take touchy and gross subjects like corpses in this one or human feces in Packing for Mars, treat them seriously but still manage to keep a sense of humor about them. While she always has one eye on the science, she never uses it to shield out the normal human responses, and this allows her to provide a clear eyed account of the uses and disposal of the dead. (One of my favorite parts involved Roach asking someone how heads were removed from cadavers for surgical practices and was told that one woman in the lab removed them all. She later met the woman who actually did the chopping and Roach admits that all she could think was, “You cut off heads!!”)So we get treated to a gory set of stories about how science uses corpses in a variety of ways including the study of impacts for the auto industry, how a brain-dead woman’s organs are removed by a transplant team, and a field of bodies left to rot for forensic research. We also get an overview of how science has used or misused bodies to advance both legitimate research and outright quackery in the past. There’s also a long section reflecting on the best way to dispose of human remains since traditional burials and cremations are costly, environmentally harmful and wasteful.While I found this really interesting and enjoyed Roach’s writing and approach, there were times when this book completely disgusted me, and I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for gore. One section about the history of various mad scientists grafting severed heads of dogs and monkeys onto other dogs and monkeys and actually managing to keep them alive for some time was almost too much, and I kind of wished she would have left that chapter out.Still, this was a really interesting book. I just wouldn’t try to eat a plate of lasagna while reading it.
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  • Kelly (and the Book Boar)
    January 1, 1970
    Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ “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.” If you know me, you already know that I have a different sort of relationship with the dead. You know, the kind where y Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ “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.” If you know me, you already know that I have a different sort of relationship with the dead. You know, the kind where you dress them up . . . and play offensive hilarious games with them . . . Obviously once I heard about Stiff it had to go right to the top of my TBR. In all honesty, I was expecting something just a smidge more entertaining than my high school biology book. You know, the kind of book only a morbid weirdo like myself could truly enjoy. To say I was pleasantly surprised is the understatement of the year.Most of us are already familiar with the potential a cadaver has to continue on after his expiration date . . . Stiff takes it to a whole new level, covering just about every potential “career” one can have after death . . . ^^^^ Yes, please.As well as tackling everything from burial to composting as a potential “disposal” method. Not to mention dealing with the more taboo subjects that relate to the dead . . . As a bonus, all of the above subject matter was written about with such charm and humor that I found myself LOLing for real at times. Mary Roach is the type of gal I’d like to have a drink with. Not only was she able to write about “stiffs” with a sense of humor, she also shamelessly owned up to her own oddities . . . “I ask whether he thinks it’s bad that I like the smell, which I don’t really, or maybe just a little. He replies that it is neither bad nor good, just morbid.” If reading a “smart people book” (a/k/a non-fiction) is something you’d like to do more of, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is one I’d highly recommend.
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  • Raeleen Lemay
    January 1, 1970
    Read for Popsugar's 2018 Reading Challenge #48: A MicrohistoryThis book was so wonderfully written, and I definitely look forward to reading more of Mary Roach's books. She was concise and easy to understand while also being HILARIOUS which I wasn't expecting. I will say though, the book dragged quite a bit around the middle (two chapters back to back that didn't interest me at all) to the point that I almost considered putting the book down. This is completely a testament to my personal prefere Read for Popsugar's 2018 Reading Challenge #48: A MicrohistoryThis book was so wonderfully written, and I definitely look forward to reading more of Mary Roach's books. She was concise and easy to understand while also being HILARIOUS which I wasn't expecting. I will say though, the book dragged quite a bit around the middle (two chapters back to back that didn't interest me at all) to the point that I almost considered putting the book down. This is completely a testament to my personal preference and shouldn't cloud other people's idea of the book as a whole; aside from the boring two chapters, this was a solid 3.5 or 4-star read for me. I feel like I learned quite a bit, while also having a pretty jolly time reading about dead bodies!
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  • Jay Green
    January 1, 1970
    I'm a compulsive buyer of Mary Roach's books. Part of the reason is research for my own books, of course, part of it is fascination, thanks to her astute choice of subjects, and part of it is simply enjoyment, derived from her clear prose and tales well told. In this case, I read Stiff just after my father passed away, so I was trying to make sense of his loss while trying to come to terms with the brute reality of death. It helped a great deal, as I anticipated it would, largely down to Roach's I'm a compulsive buyer of Mary Roach's books. Part of the reason is research for my own books, of course, part of it is fascination, thanks to her astute choice of subjects, and part of it is simply enjoyment, derived from her clear prose and tales well told. In this case, I read Stiff just after my father passed away, so I was trying to make sense of his loss while trying to come to terms with the brute reality of death. It helped a great deal, as I anticipated it would, largely down to Roach's sympathetic and informative tone. It was like being taken through a morgue by a thoughtful friend.
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  • Amanda NEVER MANDY
    January 1, 1970
    A while back I told my husband I really wanted to read this book. I went on and on about how it received great reviews and at the time he seemed extremely interested.Let’s pause right here so I can explain his levels of interest and how to read them:NOT INTERESTED – Changes subject at end of the convo and/or walks away.KIND OF INTERESTED – Nods at end of the convo like he might have listened.INTERESTED – Brief eye contact and a nod or two during the convo.EXTREMELY INTERESTED – Total eye contact A while back I told my husband I really wanted to read this book. I went on and on about how it received great reviews and at the time he seemed extremely interested.Let’s pause right here so I can explain his levels of interest and how to read them:NOT INTERESTED – Changes subject at end of the convo and/or walks away.KIND OF INTERESTED – Nods at end of the convo like he might have listened.INTERESTED – Brief eye contact and a nod or two during the convo.EXTREMELY INTERESTED – Total eye contact and verbally interacts throughout convo.I was obviously wrong about his level of interest because he ended up purchasing a different book by the same author. I guess maybe he was only kind of interested instead of extremely, which means I now have to reevaluate how I read his levels of interest. You would think after a gazillion years together I would have this shit figured out. …ANYWAY… I did read the other book he purchased first and I enjoyed it (see other review) which made me super excited to read this one. Reading up on facts is kind of my jam and topics about death have always caught my eye because I have a touch of the morbid curiosity. I figure it is a part of life so why not study up on it like you do with anything else you have to eventually experience. Knowledge is power and all that BS.The author did a fantastic job of presenting the cold rigid facts with her unique sense of humor. My only complaint is with my content expectations versus reality. I thought this book would be more about what happens to our bodies after we die, the process of handling and disposing of said body and what all that entails. This book seemed to focus more on what happens when you donate your body to science. I didn’t reduce the rating for this because as a boyfriend breaking up with you says, “It wasn’t you, it was me”.
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  • Lissa
    January 1, 1970
    I bought this book when I first taught my class that has a foresnic anthropology component. I thought I could pick out a chapter of this book to assign to them, and it would be a nice, informative, lay-person account that would be entertaining, yet informational. However, due to time constraints, I never got around to reading the book. In that time, several people have borrowed and returned this book to me, so my copy is a bit tattered and dog-eared, as if I'd read it many times. I can safely sa I bought this book when I first taught my class that has a foresnic anthropology component. I thought I could pick out a chapter of this book to assign to them, and it would be a nice, informative, lay-person account that would be entertaining, yet informational. However, due to time constraints, I never got around to reading the book. In that time, several people have borrowed and returned this book to me, so my copy is a bit tattered and dog-eared, as if I'd read it many times. I can safely say, having read it once, that I will not be going back to read it again.Stiff is a non-fiction, "science" writing book. Roach chronicles the different processes that happen to a human being after it dies. Each chapter tackles a different possible outcome for a person's corpse. She goes through chapters about anatomy labs, decay, crash-test and military trials (for safer vehicles, or more effective bullets), plane crashes, transplants, burial and cremation, and even cannibalism. The material for this book is endlessly fascinating and I feel like it has a lot of potential.That being said, I find Mary Roach's style of writing intensely irritating, which took away from the overall effectiveness of the narrative. Much of her writing is sort of falsely funny, as if she is very intentially trying to inject humor into a situation through the use of ridiculous asides that do nothing to add information or further her point.She also continually resorts to forced bathroom and genetalia jokes in order to articially infuse the book with humor. On many occasaions, she asks the scientists she interviews about what happens specifically to penile tissues. She then describes the patient if annoyed air that some of the scientists take with the assumption that the readers will all be tittering with her on her side. Well, I'm sorry, I'm with the scientists. I find that kind of thing immature and irrtating, like many of the jokes in this book. The last way that she commonly tries to inject humor into her writing is by pretending squeamishness for the sake of her readers. What kills me about this is that there are parts of the book that are legitimateuly funny, where the humor is not forced but just found in the situation. There is a description of her first visit to a very small town in China that strong reminded me of some of my problems getting around in small towns in various African countries. There is also a funny commentary about a woman who volunteers to get multiple pap smears so that future ObGyns can practice (a job that I hope pays very. very. well). Additionally, there is some really interesting information in this book. I knew a lot about the use of bodies to determine what happened in plane crashes and the sort of things that happen in gross anatomy labs. But did you know that males and females have slightly different EEG profiles? And, after a heart transplant, those do not change. Also, did you know that there have been many proven ways to make riding in aircrafts safer, including shoulder harness seat belts, more emergency exits, sprinkler systems and side airbags for impact, but none of these are being implemented because the airlines don't want to have to incur the extra costs? There are plenty of little factoids like these that are quite interesting.The bottom line for me was that there was simply not enough actual science in this science book. I've read plenty of popular science books that have managed to do a much better job walking the line between entertainment for the layperson and providing good information. As far as book that tell stories about cadavers, I would recommend any of the popular science books by William Bass or Douglas Ubelaker over this book as both fascinating and more informative.
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  • Trish
    January 1, 1970
    I've never been squeamish. From when I was a little girl I wanted to know how things work. And "things" were also living organisms. Not that I killed off animals to cut them up, mind you, but I started reading non-fiction books very early on and love books about anatomy as much as suspenseful novels about Jack the Ripper to this day. Therefore, the cover and title of this book instantly appealed to me and I'm pleased to report that the author had a very good way of blending facts with an amicabl I've never been squeamish. From when I was a little girl I wanted to know how things work. And "things" were also living organisms. Not that I killed off animals to cut them up, mind you, but I started reading non-fiction books very early on and love books about anatomy as much as suspenseful novels about Jack the Ripper to this day. Therefore, the cover and title of this book instantly appealed to me and I'm pleased to report that the author had a very good way of blending facts with an amicable writing style that was simultaneously precise and slightly humorous (though never in an inappropriate way).Mary Roach takes us on a journey through the history of medicine. We learn about "cures" from all over the world (including but not limited to placentas and aborted fetuses for a better skin - and you wouldn't believe all the stuff Westerners did, it wasn't just the Chinese) as well as funeral practices through the ages (since it's been 16 years!!! since she mentioned the alternative to cremation, I will definitely check out if there are any news on that front). We thus learn how humans in general learned about anatomy, how that changed our understanding of life and death and how we are still sometimes influenced by romantic (and illogical) views today.This directly ties into human culture around the world and I liked the author all the more for pointing out that what seems strange to us doesn't have to be for others. I'm not sure I agree about the chapter regarding eating dogs vs eating cows but I get what she was trying to say and I was reminded of the German proverb "In der Not frisst der Teufel sogar Fliegen" ("In dire times, the devil even eats flies") which made the excursion into cannibalism so interesting.Most interestingly, for me, was Tennessee. I knew about the university there and its project to help forensics by having the "Body Farm" where several human cadavers are kept in various places in different stages of decomposition and loved that she included it in this book as well. Some might say "yuck" or "ew" but nobody can deny how important forensics are so this is important work and we should be glad there are some people willing to do it!Equally, though not having known about it before, I was quite intrigued about the Swedish project for human compost. I know the Innuit have the mentality of giving their bodies back to nature (though they are often eaten by polar bears consequently so that's a little different at least), but to actively use dead humans as compost ... The thing is, you can still have a memorial service, but what happens to the body needs to be sustainable when looking at our growing numbers and it should benefit us humans and the planet if at all possible. And if a loved one wants a special place to remember the deceased, why not use a familiar and important spot? You don't show love and grief by spending more money than anybody else on a wooden casket that rots anyway, flowers that will wilt or by buying a grave or even crypt. Moreover, once again, this sort of thing just isn't sustainable (it also doesn't matter if you are an ecofriendly person or not, it's just a fact).Personally, I especially liked the chapter about organ donation or giving your body to science after your death because why not? I myself am an organ donor, but I'll definitely also look into donating my body to science if that is possible here. Anything's better than just uselessly rotting or being burnt to ash which benefits nobody but the funeral industry. And let's face it: you won't care once you're dead because you'll be gone.In fact, there is an ongoing debate in my family about this. I, personally, find most funerals disgusting because they are not about the dead but the living. People showing off clothes and who cries loudest and who bought the most opulent flower arrangement. Later, there is constant arguing over who takes care of the grave and who pays for what. And what for??? If your body can serve to make cars safer or doctors better at their work or your organs can save a life or even several - WHY AREN'T WE ALL DOING THAT?! Because of sensitivities and religion and other stupid notions just like them. Honestly, we should be better by now.The author is right: crash dummies will only get you so far, just like certain animal bodies (and how sick is it that we are impious when it comes to animals but not when we're talking about the animal homo sapiens?). Theoretical knowledge, too, will not sufficiently serve a doctor-in-training. I understand why someone would prefer their body to be used to cure cancer instead of helping plastic surgeons but so many scientific breakthroughs came from a corner we didn't expect and whether we're talking about removing gall stones or correcting the angle of a nose, it is surgery so why not help fellow humans? One other thing: I'm all for treating a body on the table with some respect but people tend to take even that way too far and I was negatively surprised how common that is even amongst doctors and scientists!You can see, it is a very interesting topic to me and so many others (like religion for example) have influenced pathology and continue to do so (for the moment at least) so I'm sure many will have vastly different views on this topic. Not that I care. I hope we will continue to develop new ways and to look into what is possible (hands up who enjoyed the chapter about those experiments with severed heads *grins*) so we can evolve further still and maybe shed stupid superstitions.And yes, I've been meaning to finally get to "Körperwelten" (the exhibition of specially prepared REAL human and animal bodies) by Gunther von Hagen. I see nothing morbid or wrong with it but regard it as a unique opportunity to see the inside of different bodies. Bonus to the author for mentioning von Hagen and his work as well.A very well-written book full of facts that were presented in a humane way. The author put a lot of effort into this and I learned some very interesting facts. And like I said in the beginning of this review: while the writing style was respectful, she laced it with just enough slight humour here and there to make reading this book very enjoyable indeed.
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  • Becky
    January 1, 1970
    There was not a single zombie in this whole book!!Mary Roach writes books about some interesting topics. This is the one that most interested me, though on finishing I realized that I also had "Packing For Mars," which I think will likely get read sooner rather than later, now that I've finally got around to reading one of her books and have really enjoyed her style. She brings a bit of levity and a healthy sense of the absurd to topics that most of us can go a full lifetime avoiding even thinki There was not a single zombie in this whole book!!Mary Roach writes books about some interesting topics. This is the one that most interested me, though on finishing I realized that I also had "Packing For Mars," which I think will likely get read sooner rather than later, now that I've finally got around to reading one of her books and have really enjoyed her style. She brings a bit of levity and a healthy sense of the absurd to topics that most of us can go a full lifetime avoiding even thinking about. I find myself having to be a bit of a messenger-killer though, because, while I get that she was being thorough in reporting on the history of anatomy and scientific discovery and experimentation regarding the body, all of the stuff about the animal experimentation just really bothered me. Like, a lot. I think that I'm already like 92.3% misanthropic, and all the "Hey, let's take the head off of a monkey and graft it onto a different monkey and see what happens!" stuff probably raised that to like 95.9%. If I had to guesstimate. I can understand if we're trying to understand and DO something. Experimentation is needed. Practicing some things, like grafting together veins and arteries to reattach limbs or do transplants, is vital, and since people are generally hesitant about being the guinea pigs... real guinea pigs are needed. I can understand that. But some of these experiments are just... frivolous god-playing, in my opinion. It doesn't serve a purpose in the long run, for people or animals, and is just done because it can be, because there's no compelling reason not to, and they were "doing science". Then there are some little quirky writing things that kind of annoyed me, like Roach's tendency to get off-track and ramble on about a side topic for a bit too long before getting back to the interesting topic she interrupted with her anecdote or sidebar story. And so, I drop a star for these things. But only one, because the rest of the book is great. There are some insights in this book that really made me stop and think. For instance, laws against necrophilia in Nevada were more complete and specific than rape laws in the US: “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Until January 1, 2013 that is, when rape was redefined as: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” (Per FBI.gov.)Then there's the statistics of just how man lives can be saved by doing crash test experiments on actual human cadavers. Or how squeamish and prudish people can be about dead bodies. I am not a religious or spiritual person. To me, everything in this book related to putting cadavers to use made perfect sense. I've been an organ donor for as long as I've had the ability to check the box when renewing my drivers license. If I die, take anything useful and give it to anyone who needs it. I can't use them anymore, why should I keep them? Sentimentality? I've had discussions with people who say that they'd "never!" check that organ donor box on their license because EMTs and doctors "won't try as hard" to save organ donors. To which I call bullshit. They aren't going to check your ID for the indicator before deciding whether to give you CPR, and they probably aren't the ones who would determine whether your squishy insides are even viable options for donation. Plus, the purpose of that kind of transplant would be to save a life, right? And your life is right there, waiting to be saved, while a potential organ recipient is a spot on a list and probably not bleeding out in front of them. Check the organ donor box. They'd try to save you if you need it. I promise. If they don't, haunt the shit out of them. Anyway, as I was saying. In my mind, it makes no sense at all for a perfectly good body to just rot in a hole somewhere, or be incinerated. It can do something worthwhile. Maybe try out the newest seatbelt or airbag technology, or safety harness gear for people who work on insanely high platforms, like the guys who have to fix antennas on building or something. Or maybe they could be used for teaching the next crop of doctors how to actually perform the procedures they are supposed to do. If they botch it their first time out (or second or third or fourth), wouldn't you want that to be a practice run on a cadaver who isn't going to know or care, rather than on you? The section about the soul was lost on me, because, well, as I said, I'm not much of a spiritual type person. I don't really give that kind of thing much thought. That being said, I think it's pretty silly to claim traits have "followed" an organ from the donor to the recipient. The claim that a donor heart made the recipient into a sex fiend or made the recipient feel like a teenager and want to drive fast cars and listen to loud music is pretty outlandish. My theory is that the recipient has just been given a healthy heart (or whatever) and suddenly has a new lease on life, and wants to make the most of it. The simplest explanation is usually the right one. Another thing that I thought was kind of silly was Dr. Oz being quoted several times in this book. As an expert, not a TV celebrity quack. I'm sorry, I live in 2015. I just can't take this guy seriously. He's a joke who got rich on daytime TV by exploiting people and selling them bullshit and lies. If he was an actual legit doctor at some point, he's lost any credibility he might have had. I was actually really surprised to see his name in this book. It seemed so rational otherwise. But this, really?: "[L]ife and death is not a binary system. [...] In between life and death is a state of near-death, or pseudo-life. And most people don't want what's in between." Uhhhh, right, Dr. Oz. If you say so. You're the "expert".The section about ingesting human flesh or secretions for health benefits was pretty yucky, but otherwise I didn't think that this book was distasteful or gross at all. I really thought that the anatomy and decomposition research sections were fascinating, as well as the black box death investigator guy. I also learned quite a lot about the funereal business, which probably shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did... but I guess it's just not something that I've had cause to think about (and hopefully won't yet for a while). I actually appreciated the journalistic detachment mixed with first-hand experience that Roach brought to this. It definitely gave it a lot of credibility in my mind. I think she asked good questions, better questions, if maybe a bit different, than I would have asked. All in all, I think that this was interesting and informative, and it's made me want to explore my post-life options a little bit more. There's a lot of them available now, but there still seems to be a stigma about remains being dealt with in non-traditional ways... or maybe that's just because of where I am, with the prevailing Catholic notions in the area. I'd be perfectly happy being composted via an organic burial pod so I'd be tree-food.
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  • Jim
    January 1, 1970
    In spite of the macabre topic, Mary Roach must have had a ball doing her footwork for this book. Not happy to glean her information from published sources, Mary travelled extensively to conduct her research, and had doors opened for her that I doubt get opened very often. Let's face it, when your job requires you to work with the dead the average Joe already thinks you're a ghoul, so it follows that you would be very cautious about allowing someone, a reporter no less, to observe you at your wor In spite of the macabre topic, Mary Roach must have had a ball doing her footwork for this book. Not happy to glean her information from published sources, Mary travelled extensively to conduct her research, and had doors opened for her that I doubt get opened very often. Let's face it, when your job requires you to work with the dead the average Joe already thinks you're a ghoul, so it follows that you would be very cautious about allowing someone, a reporter no less, to observe you at your work. I think that her fair and open-minded approach probably broke down barriers very quickly,Mary, you see, is not the squeamish type. She is perfectly willing to stroll around a field of rotting corpses or sniff a shovelful of composting human in order to obtain not only information but sensation and experience. Certainly some work was done in the library - she covers a good deal of the history of the uses and abuses of dead people, with corpses being used for everything from uncomplaining patients for the instruction of cosmetic surgeons to dangling about as test subjects for new military munitions - but the majority of Mary's work was done on site at the labs, clinics and mortuaries where dead people tend to congregate. The result is a fair and honest look at the dead, how we have used them in the past and what we may have to do in the future in order to dispose of the millions of people who will be expiring daily.The book has every right to be sombre. It isn't. In fact, Ms Roach approaches the subject with a form of reverent humor that entertains the reader but does not disparage the departed. This is a respectful and thorough treatment of the topic. I hereby declare that this is one of the best books I have read this year, and I further declare that Ms Roach is one writer I would love to hoist a pint with some day...I have no doubt she could relate many a fascinating anecdote that didn't make it into print.
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  • Lynx
    January 1, 1970
    Loved this one! Mary Roach brings enjoyment to the macabre in this extremely educational book. Everything you wanted (and some things you didn't want to) know about the life of a cadaver. Packed with laugh-out-loud humour and interesting facts on every page, you'll be sad as it reaches the end. So check this book out and learn all about the exciting life your own body could have after death!
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  • Athena
    January 1, 1970
    Well, I am half way through this and it has turned into a huge disappointment. What started out to be a funny depiction on what happens to donated cadavers, has taken a turn for the horrible. By the 6th or 7th chapter, the author showed what I can only equate to laziness and added commentary on subjects not pertaining to her once appreciated topic. I now find myself skipping over entire pages due to the lack of interest her writing presents and the tangents on which she goes; this I image done f Well, I am half way through this and it has turned into a huge disappointment. What started out to be a funny depiction on what happens to donated cadavers, has taken a turn for the horrible. By the 6th or 7th chapter, the author showed what I can only equate to laziness and added commentary on subjects not pertaining to her once appreciated topic. I now find myself skipping over entire pages due to the lack of interest her writing presents and the tangents on which she goes; this I image done for two reasons 1) She needed filler and 2) She thought that by adding humor to the book that it would deflect some of the gore...not so. It gets 2 stars b/c it started off well, but sadly enough, I may not even finish this one.***** UPDATE *****Okay, so I can't really say I finished reading this book, because I didn't. All I can say to sum it up is it sucked. I am that person who cannot put a book down once I have committed myself to a least half of it because I have a hard time leaving things undone, sort of speak. But this book was impossible for me to finish and I cannot understand why it became a best seller. Anyway, save your money and pass this one up.
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  • Erica
    January 1, 1970
    I really ought to have read this sooner. I'm not sure what happened and why it took me so long to get this information into my brain.This is a book about what happens to dead bodies. It's an older title and some of the information therein has changed (Spoiler alert: there are now six? body farms in the US, I think. And the Swedish lady has not been as instrumental as hoped in burying the dead via compost, more's the pity because I totally want to compost myself! There is currently, however, a wo I really ought to have read this sooner. I'm not sure what happened and why it took me so long to get this information into my brain.This is a book about what happens to dead bodies. It's an older title and some of the information therein has changed (Spoiler alert: there are now six? body farms in the US, I think. And the Swedish lady has not been as instrumental as hoped in burying the dead via compost, more's the pity because I totally want to compost myself! There is currently, however, a woman in CA who is trying to bring body compost to popularity and I am all on board!) but it's still incredibly fascinating to find out what we, in America, do with the all our dead bodies and what have been done to corpses historically, and how our opinions on death and the remains have changed in a rather short period of time.Covered herein:-What your corpse can expect as a medical donation;-What happens when you're buried versus cremated;-Other options available for getting rid of your remains;-What other people have done with their dead throughout history;-And much, much more!Keep in mind, this was written by a journalist and not by someone in the medical or deathical profession so if you're hoping for in-depth anatomy discussions, you may be disappointed. Also, if you're the type who feels death should only ever be treated with the utmost respect and honor, you may want to steer clear as, at times, she is mildly irreverent, which, of course, I loved. Only once did I think she bordered on downright disrespectful and I don't even remember what it was that made me feel that way so, obviously, not a huge deal if you're not easily offended by joking around a bit in regard to death and dead bodies.
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  • Bradley
    January 1, 1970
    I never guessed I would want to know about what happens to a dead body after it ... dies. But here I am, reading and now reviewing a book on just that. Was it funny? Sometimes. Was it gross? Sometimes! But was it deeply FASCINATING? Yeah, I guess it was. It really wasn't too deep on the science bits, actually, not spending too much time on the actual bugs in your gut partying down on the glut of the you-buffet, but it did have plenty of eyewitness accounts of morgues and the everyday lives of th I never guessed I would want to know about what happens to a dead body after it ... dies. But here I am, reading and now reviewing a book on just that. Was it funny? Sometimes. Was it gross? Sometimes! But was it deeply FASCINATING? Yeah, I guess it was. It really wasn't too deep on the science bits, actually, not spending too much time on the actual bugs in your gut partying down on the glut of the you-buffet, but it did have plenty of eyewitness accounts of morgues and the everyday lives of the folks there. Plus the military outfits that used bodies for ballistics research. And let's not forget about the second half of the book that goes into the really funky stuff.You know, like methods of disposal of your earthly remains from a historical standpoint. Oh, you wacky Resurrectionists. Or my personal favorite modern (and hopefully soon-to-be-legal for you, soon) composting farms!Look, seriously, folks, I think it's a wonderful idea. First I get freeze-dried, shattered into hamburger-sized chunks, then I GO ON TO FEED THE PLANTS FOR REAL.Like, for real, for real. Since ashes are pretty much worthless for that and getting buried is a joke when you think about it, getting turned into mulch so that you ACTUALLY return your nutrients back to nature is a BEAUTIFUL gesture.Where can I sign up? I mean, donating my body to science is great and all, but the poetry of getting mulched is TOO MUCH FOR ME. My daughter to my granddaughter: "Your grandfather helped grow this grove of apple trees.""I thought he was a writer of Science Fiction who rarely went out of the city?""Oh, I mean it literally, sweetie. After we mulched him and spread him across the land, he literally helped grow these!""But not with his own two hands.""Oh, no, we used those, too.""You don't understand me!""I want to grow roses. Pink ones.""Moooooooom!"
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  • Richard
    January 1, 1970
    Opening paragraph: 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. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much happens, and nothing is expected of you. If you read this book, you will undoubtedly have many “ick” moments (especially in the chapter about eating the dead, but there’s also that footnote about necrophilia on page 43...), but you should have even more laugh-out-loud moment, and maybe Opening paragraph: 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. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much happens, and nothing is expected of you. If you read this book, you will undoubtedly have many “ick” moments (especially in the chapter about eating the dead, but there’s also that footnote about necrophilia on page 43...), but you should have even more laugh-out-loud moment, and maybe a few bemuse-the-other-bus-riders when you groan and laugh simultaneously, especially if they see the cover of the book.Roach as a writer delights in the subtle twist creeping into the prose, the textual double-take. An excellent example is the first paragraph of Chapter Three: Out behind the University of Tennessee Medical Center is a lovely, forested grove with squirrels leaping in the branches of hickory trees and birds calling and patches of green grass where people lie on their backs in the sun, or sometimes in the shade, depending on where the researchers put them. Isn’t it splendid the way she paints the bucolic scene, so typical of an introductory paragraph? Almost like the copy for a university marketing brochure. And then... you remember what this book is about.Roach does occasionally rein in her curiosity, but only with an effort, and only after telling us where she almost took us. By that point, we are usually grateful for the mercy.It is easy to imagine her as a child running into the house with a handful of squirming worms asking Mom “Are these good for eating? They tickle your tongue! I saw birds feeding them to their babies! Can I feed them to my little sister?”I think Mary Roach makes the world a more lively place, and I’m glad she writes this stuff. But don’t read this book while eating, especially not rice crispies or chicken soup.
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  • Karlyflower *The Vampire Ninja, Luminescent Monster & Wendigo Nerd Goddess of Canada (according to The Hulk)*
    January 1, 1970
    R, is for Roach 3.5 StarsHUM-ANE: adjective: humane; comparative adjective: humaner; superlative adjective: humanest1. having or showing compassion or benevolence. "regulations ensuring the humane treatment of animals" synonyms: compassionate, kind, considerate, understanding, sympathetic, tolerant; How is it that a species with a history ripe with abuse and mistreatment of animals has come to use a word so similar to that species title to describe the very thing history proves us not to be?! A R, is for Roach 3.5 StarsHUM-ANE: adjective: humane; comparative adjective: humaner; superlative adjective: humanest1. having or showing compassion or benevolence. "regulations ensuring the humane treatment of animals" synonyms: compassionate, kind, considerate, understanding, sympathetic, tolerant; How is it that a species with a history ripe with abuse and mistreatment of animals has come to use a word so similar to that species title to describe the very thing history proves us not to be?! ARROGANCE. The above is just food for thought, not something Roach broaches in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. In this book you will find many different uses for a human body after that body is no longer occupied. And to say it is fascinating is the understatement of the year. While some may call this morbid, I simply found it a scientific, at times humorous, and an extremely interesting read. As a species we have this almost innate fear of death. If you were to do a study of fears you would in fact learn that ‘Death’ is the most common fear that exists. I find this preposterous, death is inevitable. What we really fear isn’t death itself (at least for the most part); it is the act of ‘dying’ and the pain and hardship that comes with living in a body you KNOW is failing you. Death isn’t scary, DYING is scary. This book also isn’t about that. ( I should really stop talking about things this book ISN’T about) This book is about the serious scientific advancements that have come about owing to the use of the cadaver. And our history is full of horrible instances of grave-robbing, non-consensual cadaver use and even murder when it comes to furthering science or scientific advancements by using the body of a person who can no longer object. Some of these uses, naturally, are horrifying. Some of the stories and snipits from history are deeply unsettling. There are a couple chapters I wouldn’t advise eating before, after or during (I.e. the one on human cannibalism) but for the most part Roach has a witty, interesting non-fiction that manages to be illuminating and funny at the same time. Now I will answer the question that crosses probably every reader's mind, and certainly crossed (and is shared) Roach's mind, what about you:My answer is similar to hers actually, I will - provided they want them - be at very least an organ donor on this I will firmly stand, to the devil with my family or loved ones' squeamishness if I can save lives. I will however leave the final call on donating my body to science pending my survivors wishes. I will be dead, they will be the ones living with that not me.Category: A Non-Fiction Book
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  • Mindy
    January 1, 1970
    Mary Roach didn't strike me as funny or witty, just annoying. She's like the wise ass class clown in the back row, heckling the teacher and distracting everyone from an otherwise fairly decent lecture. Only she's supposed to be the teacher, too. What was her point? To talk about dead bodies or impress herself with her own juvenile jokes? On a professional note, Roach seems awfully distrustful of librarians. Does she really think the circ clerk at a medical library thinks she's freaky for checkin Mary Roach didn't strike me as funny or witty, just annoying. She's like the wise ass class clown in the back row, heckling the teacher and distracting everyone from an otherwise fairly decent lecture. Only she's supposed to be the teacher, too. What was her point? To talk about dead bodies or impress herself with her own juvenile jokes? On a professional note, Roach seems awfully distrustful of librarians. Does she really think the circ clerk at a medical library thinks she's freaky for checking out books on dead people? Does she really think he even cares? Does she really think a librarian is going to mistake her PubMed search as porn and bust her? Too bad, because her "facts" like "a dozen websites say..." and "when I googled this I found out..." make me think she has the research prowess of a cadaver. Roach could use a good librarian, who could help her improve her search skills and also help her find the next open mic night to practice her shtick. Skip this book. Stick to Six Feet Under.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    4.5* After giving this some more thought I’ve added to this review. Additions are in bold. Have you ever wondered what happens to the body when it dies? Or how cadavers donated to science are used? Have you ever wondered if embalming keeps your body from ever decaying? These are just a few of the questions covered in this book.I absolutely love Mary Roach’s writing style! She’s hilarious without being disrespectful, and I can’t imagine anyone being able to write about this subject as well as she 4.5* After giving this some more thought I’ve added to this review. Additions are in bold. Have you ever wondered what happens to the body when it dies? Or how cadavers donated to science are used? Have you ever wondered if embalming keeps your body from ever decaying? These are just a few of the questions covered in this book.I absolutely love Mary Roach’s writing style! She’s hilarious without being disrespectful, and I can’t imagine anyone being able to write about this subject as well as she does. She keeps the reader engaged and asks the questions we are all curious about.. Well, at least the questions I was curious about. This was a fascinating and at times a disturbing read. If you get nauseous easy this may not be the book for you. This may also not be the book for you if you are an animal lover. There are several sections that discuss experiments on animals—the same or similar experiments that are being done on cadavers—that was very difficult for me to read.
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  • Ammar
    January 1, 1970
    One of the best bizarre non fiction books that I have read lately
  • Andrea
    January 1, 1970
    Last year my man and I visited Calgary on our way to the mountains and spontaneously decided to check out the Body Worlds exhibit in the local science museum. Because, you know, hanging out with human cadavers for a few hours is our idea of a romantic outing. The majority of the exhibit was exceptionally fascinating and educational, and considering the subject, not too outlandish, until we reached the curtained room that illustrated human reproduction and sexuality. Here we were, with a bunch of Last year my man and I visited Calgary on our way to the mountains and spontaneously decided to check out the Body Worlds exhibit in the local science museum. Because, you know, hanging out with human cadavers for a few hours is our idea of a romantic outing. The majority of the exhibit was exceptionally fascinating and educational, and considering the subject, not too outlandish, until we reached the curtained room that illustrated human reproduction and sexuality. Here we were, with a bunch of other museum goers, facing a table with two cadavers perpetually suspended in a cowgirl position. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the room wondering, Would these people donate their bodies to science if they knew they'd be displayed this way to strangers? Would this woman, now tenderly embracing a random chap underneath her, blush profusely and say, Nope, bury me six feet under? Needless to say, on my way out I just awkwardly shuffled past the sign up sheet calling for new donors.See, I was still trying to assign human characteristics to the remains that seized to be humans long time ago. My logic told me that being the subject of studies that educate and contribute to life-saving research is the noblest way to go out, yet something primal in me urged to run for the hills. This is the subject that Mary Roach discusses in her book, Stiff. She argues that once a person passes it would make much more sense to be useful to humanity than simply laying in the ground. She investigates multiple branches of science that utilize cadavers, as well as explores ethical dilemmas and social stigmas associated with it. Bottom line: humans are uncomfortable talking about death and assign overblown meaning to dead bodies to avoid thinking about mortality, but they shouldn't. I thoroughly enjoyed pushing the boundaries of my own comfort zone while reading this book. I actually started rethinking my views on cremation in favour of pod burials. And this review must officially seal my weirdo reputation on the Internet. Hello, prospective employers :)
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  • Vanessa
    January 1, 1970
    Stiff is a book that really educated me, in terms of a topic that I was wholly unfamiliar with. Gone are the days when I thought that bodies were either donated to universities, cremated, or buried - there are SO MANY MORE OPTIONS.This book was both a fascinating and gruesome read. Although I wouldn't say I am the most squeamish of people, I did find myself screwing up my face in disgust at particular sections of this book (*cough*cannabalism*cough*). I wouldn't recommend it for people that are Stiff is a book that really educated me, in terms of a topic that I was wholly unfamiliar with. Gone are the days when I thought that bodies were either donated to universities, cremated, or buried - there are SO MANY MORE OPTIONS.This book was both a fascinating and gruesome read. Although I wouldn't say I am the most squeamish of people, I did find myself screwing up my face in disgust at particular sections of this book (*cough*cannabalism*cough*). I wouldn't recommend it for people that are faint of heart, as this might be a bit of an ordeal to get through.I really enjoyed the mix of fact and humour as well as first-hand experience that Mary Roach included in this book. I did find myself grinning or chuckling inwardly at several moments throughout this book - the woman has a fascination with cadaver penises, for real!There was quite a lot of animal cruelty portrayed in this book, which did admittedly make me somewhat uncomfortable. However, I can understand why it was included, because this is a microhistory after all and must stay true to the facts put forward throughout the book. There were also some sections, such as the use of cadavers in ballistics practice, that didn't appeal to me as much and I did find myself zoning out a bit in those sections, but overall I found this a highly entertaining and informative read. This topic may possibly be only interesting for those who are ever so slightly morbid though.
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  • Meg
    January 1, 1970
    Morbid and tongue-in-rancid-cheek funny nonfiction piece about what happens to a body when it's donated to science. From shaving off their faces for plastic surgery training to strapping them in for automobile crash tests, these stiff bodies are in for one hell-on-earth of a ride. The most curious thing? Even after hearing how they're poked and prodded, desecrated and dismembered, I actually think I'm more likely to donate my body to science now than I was before reading this book. Not sure I wa Morbid and tongue-in-rancid-cheek funny nonfiction piece about what happens to a body when it's donated to science. From shaving off their faces for plastic surgery training to strapping them in for automobile crash tests, these stiff bodies are in for one hell-on-earth of a ride. The most curious thing? Even after hearing how they're poked and prodded, desecrated and dismembered, I actually think I'm more likely to donate my body to science now than I was before reading this book. Not sure I want to know what that says about me...
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  • Caroline
    January 1, 1970
    Eeeek! Too much information for my squeamish stomach. I know Mary Roach has thousands of fans, but I found her relishing of gruesome details a bit unpleasant.I also found the chapters dealing with the historical treatment of cadavers more interesting than the chapters on how they are used now. I thought some of the chapters on contemporary usage were a bit boring, and could have been edited down.The titles of the chapters of the book give a good indication of the contents. (view spoiler)[1. A HE Eeeek! Too much information for my squeamish stomach. I know Mary Roach has thousands of fans, but I found her relishing of gruesome details a bit unpleasant.I also found the chapters dealing with the historical treatment of cadavers more interesting than the chapters on how they are used now. I thought some of the chapters on contemporary usage were a bit boring, and could have been edited down.The titles of the chapters of the book give a good indication of the contents. (view spoiler)[1. A HEAD IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTEPractising surgery on the dead.2. CRIMES OF ANATOMYBody snatching and other sordid tales from the dawn of human dissection.3. LIFE AFTER DEATH.On human decay and what can be done about it.4. DEAD MAN DRIVINGHuman crash test dummies and the ghastly, necessary science of impact tolerance.5. BEYOND THE BLACK BOXWhen the bodies of the passengers must tell the story of a crash.6. THE CADAVER WHO JOINED THE ARMYThe sticky ethics of bullets and bombs.7. HOLY CADAVERThe crucifixion experiments8. HOW TO KNOW IF YOU'RE DEADBeating-heart cadavers, live burial, and the scientific search for the soul.9. JUST A HEADDecapitation, reanimation, and the human head transplant10 EAT MEMedicinal cannibalism and the case of the human dumplings.11. OUT OF THE FIRE, INTO THE COMPOST BINSAnd other ways to end up.12. REMAINS OF THE AUTHORWill she or won't she? (hide spoiler)]And as usual, herewith a few notes of things that I found of personal interest, mostly in the author's own words. (The links are mine...) (view spoiler)[ SURGEON APPRENTICESThe author was surprised to learn that even when surgeons are in residencies, they aren't typically given an opportunity to practice operations on donated cadavers. Students learn surgery the way they have always learned: by watching experienced surgeons at work. 27HISTORY: A DESPERATE NEED FOR CADAVERS FOR DISSECTIONThe tradition of using executed criminals for dissections persisted and hit its stride in 18th and 19th century Britain. While the number of medical schools grew, the number of cadavers stayed roughly the same, and the anatomists faced a chronic shortage of material. Back then no one donated his body to science. The churchgoing masses believed in a literal, corporal rising from the grave, and dissection was thought of as pretty much spoiling your chances of resurrection. 46It was not unheard of for an anatomist to tote freshly deceased family members over to the dissecting chamber for a morning before dropping them off at the churchyard. Seventeenth-century surgeon-anatomist William Harvey, famous for discovering the human circulatory system, also deserves fame for being one of few medical men in history so dedicated to his calling that he could dissect his own father and sister. Harvey did what he did because the alternatives - stealing the corpses of someone else's loved ones or giving up his research - were unacceptable to him. 42.By 1828, the demands of London's anatomy schools were such that ten full-time body snatchers and two hundred or so part-timers were kept busy through the dissecting "season". (Anatomy course were held only between October and May, to avoid the stench and swiftness of summer-time decomposition.) 44DENTURESWhen bodies were too decomposed to dissect, often the teeth were pulled and sold to dentists, for making dentures. 45PROTECTION - KEEPING BODIES SAFE FROM BODY-SNATCHERSEntrepreneurs came up with an arsenal of anti-resurrectionist products and service, affordable only to the rich. Iron cages called mortsafes could be set in concrete above the grave or underground, around the coffin. Churches in Scotland built graveyard "dead houses", locked buildings where a body could be left to decompose until its structures and organs had disintegrated to the point where they were of no use to anatomists. You could buy patented spring-closure coffins, coffins outfitted with cast-iron corpse straps, double and even triple coffins. 48MURDERIn the first quarter of the 19th century, William Burke and William Hare, realising there was money in cadavers, murdered 15 people before they were caught. 49FORENSICS RESEARCHAt the University of Tennessee Medical Centre there is a forested grove dedicated to the study of human decay. Cadavers are left out in the open, and studied to help further research in the field of criminal forensics. 61HOW TO CHECK THAT PEOPLE ARE REALLY DEADThe problem, for centuries, was that doctors couldn't tell for sure whether the heart had ceased to beat, or whether they were merely having trouble hearing it. The stethoscope wasn't invented until the mid-1800s. To allay patients' considerable fears of live burial, as well as their own insecurities, 18th and 19th physicians devised a diverting roster of methods for verifying death. (These often involved loud noises, or hurting the cadaver so that the pain might return them to consciousness.) 171None of these techniques gained wide acceptance, and most doctors felt that putrefaction was the only reliable way to verify that someone was dead. And so it was that special buildings, called waiting mortuaries, were built for the purpose of warehousing the mouldering dead. These were huge, ornate halls, common in Germany in the 1800s. Some had separate halls for male and female cadavers. Others were segregated by class. Attendants were employed to keep watch for signs of life, which they did via a system of strings linking the fingers of corpses to a bell...so that any motion on the part of the deceased would alert the attendant, who was posted, owing to the considerable stench, in a separate room. As years passed and not a single resident was saved, the establishments began to close.173THE HUMAN COMPOST MOVEMENT.This centres on a tiny island called Lyron, in Sweden, and was initiated by biologist-entrepreneur Susanne Wiigh-Masak. She founded a company called Promessa, which seeks to replace cremation with a technologically enhanced form of organic compositng. 261Promessahttp://www.promessa.se/HOW CADAVERS ARE USEDUpward of 80 percent of the bodies left to science are used for anatomy lab dissections.New Mexico's Maxwell Museum of Anthropology accepts bodies specifically to harvest the bones. They are not assimilated into skeletons, but used individually. They are added to the university's osteological collection, and used to study everything from forensics to the skeletal manifestations of diseases.FAQ: Re donating one's body for bone harvesting. The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, New Mexico. http://www.unm.edu/~osteolab/faq.htmlNo one in this country is making skeletons for medical schools. The vast majority of the world's medical school skeletons have, over the years, been imported from Calcutta, but no longer, as several stories emerged about abuses in obtaining the bodies. 283If you want to donate your brain, Harvard's McClean Hospital has 'The Brain Bank'. 284The Harvard Brain Bank & how to donate a brain...https://hbtrc.mclean.harvard.edu/PLASTINATIONThis is the process of taking organic tissue and replacing the water in it with a liquid silicone polymer, turning the organism into a permanently preserved version of itself. it was developed by German anatomist Gunther von Hagens. He makes educational models for anatomy programes. he is best known, however, for his controversial platinated whole-body art exhibit, "Korperwelten" or in England, "Bodyworlds" - which has toured Europe for the past 5 years, raising eyebrows and tidy sums of cash. The skinless bodies are posed as living people in action: swimming, riding (plastinated horse included), playing chess. The bodies in the show were donated by their owners specifically for this purpose. (von Hagens leaves a stack of donor forms at the exit of the exhibit. According to a 2001 London Observer article, the doner list is up to 3,700.)Flickr pix of Bodyworlds/plastination exhibitionhttps://www.flickr.com/search/?text=b...HOW DO YOU WANT TO DISPOSE OF YOUR BODY?The author makes an interesting point that the kindest thing to do is to leave it up to your nearest and dearest. (hide spoiler)]All in all I thought this was a so-so read. Loved the chapter dealing with the history of how cadavers were obtained for autopsies. Plus loved reading about plastination (although I was one of those who found the famous/notorious plastination exhibition quite offensive at the time.) The rest of the book I rather skimmed though.Finally - whinge, whinge, whinge - another non-fiction book without an index. Not good.----------------------------------------The Guardian review of Stiff...https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...
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  • Carmen
    January 1, 1970
    Wow, this book was very informative. I learned about practicing surgery on the dead. I wonder if people who donate their body to science know they might end up as practice for a face-lift? Body snatching and other sordid tales from the dawn of human dissection – interesting. On human decay and what can be done about it – interesting. Human crash test dummies and the ghastly, necessary science of impact tolerance – very interesting. When the bodies of the passengers must tell the story of a crash Wow, this book was very informative. I learned about practicing surgery on the dead. I wonder if people who donate their body to science know they might end up as practice for a face-lift? Body snatching and other sordid tales from the dawn of human dissection – interesting. On human decay and what can be done about it – interesting. Human crash test dummies and the ghastly, necessary science of impact tolerance – very interesting. When the bodies of the passengers must tell the story of a crash – interesting. The crucifixion experiments – this chapter was disturbing. How to Know If You’re Dead: Beating-heart cadavers, live burial, and the scientific search for the soul – fascinating. Decapitation, reanimation and the human head transplant – This chapter was disgusting. There were a lot of horrific experiments done on animals, like giving them multiple heads, cutting them in half and sewing them back together, and doing head transplants. Eat Me: Medicinal cannibalism and the case of the human dumplings – this chapter was also disgusting. Mary seems to have no problem with it. Remains of the author – Mary explores different options you can choose for your body after death. Overall, this was a fascinating book and I learned a lot. Mary Roach has a great since of humor and seems pretty fearless. That being said, I have a high-tolerance to body grossness, but not so much for cruelty and animal experimentation.
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