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Stiff [Paperback]

Mary Roach
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 26 2004 9780393324822 978-0393324822 New edition

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.

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From Publishers Weekly

"Uproariously funny" doesn't seem a likely description for a book on cadavers. However, Roach, a Salon and Reader's Digest columnist, has done the nearly impossible and written a book as informative and respectful as it is irreverent and witty. From her opening lines ("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"), it is clear that she's taking a unique approach to issues surrounding death. Roach delves into the many productive uses to which cadavers have been put, from medical experimentation to applications in transportation safety research (in a chapter archly called "Dead Man Driving") to work by forensic scientists quantifying rates of decay under a wide array of bizarre circumstances. There are also chapters on cannibalism, including an aside on dumplings allegedly filled with human remains from a Chinese crematorium, methods of disposal (burial, cremation, composting) and "beating-heart" cadavers used in organ transplants. Roach has a fabulous eye and a wonderful voice as she describes such macabre situations as a plastic surgery seminar with doctors practicing face-lifts on decapitated human heads and her trip to China in search of the cannibalistic dumpling makers. Even Roach's digressions and footnotes are captivating, helping to make the book impossible to put down.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Those curious or brave enough to find out what really happens to a body that is donated to the scientific community can do so with this book. Dissection in medical anatomy classes is about the least bizarre of the purposes that science has devised. Mostly dealing with such contemporary uses such as stand-ins for crash-test dummies, Roach also pulls together considerable historical and background information. Bodies are divided into types, including "beating-heart" cadavers for organ transplants, and individual parts-leg and foot segments, for example, are used to test footwear for the effects of exploding land mines. Just as the nonemotional, fact-by-fact descriptions may be getting to be a bit too much, Roach swings into macabre humor. In some cases, it is needed to restore perspective or aid in understanding both what the procedures are accomplishing and what it is hoped will be learned. In all cases, the comic relief welcomes readers back to the world of the living. For those who are interested in the fields of medicine or forensics and are aware of some of the procedures, this book makes excellent reading.
Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Wanted to Read This For Ages Feb. 6 2014
By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is one of those books that I've wanted to read for a long time and had high expectations. I am well-read on the subject matter, it's one of my special interests, however I come to this topic with a Catholic worldview and that is where my review will differ from the average one. First off, when one has such high expectations for a book so highly lauded it's not surprising I was a bit let down. Mostly on the humour side. I have a dry sense of humour, not easily offended but I didn't find this "uproariously funny" like Publisher's Weekly did. Some of the humour made me chuckle but a lot of it fell flat, was full of puns (uck) and just not my type. I wouldn't read any of her other books unless the subject matter fascinated me and so far none of the others do. Anyway, humour aside, I found the book entirely captivating. Starting out historically I was in familiar territory and then topics became more modern describing their history up to expected new future advances. I enjoyed most the history; that is where my own special interests lie especially during the Victorian period. Next, I'm interested in forensics and really enjoyed the chapters on the body farm, airplane crashes and crash test specimens. At chapter 8 I became uncomfortable with the topic of brain death and organ donation because the author allowed her own moral opinion to flavour the discussion, something she hadn't done up to this point. The Catholic Church excepts brain death, as do I, however my convictions do not hold with taking organs from a breathing body that needs to be anaesthetised. But Roach uses this chapter to express her firm opinion otherwise and in her punny way calls the 54% of us (her statistic) who would not donate organs from a supposedly "brain dead" loved one, "heartless". Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Humorous and informative! Jan. 20 2014
By Mikeyxx
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I now have a new view on cadavers, what they do for us and the respect that is offered to them. After reading this I immediately purchased two more of her books to go through.

If you appreciate a sense of humour, and want to know how things work and what occurs, this is the book for you. But good luck putting it down as she's very good at keeping you interested. It's not the best source for light social chatter I have found out though. ;)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Stiff - Anything But! March 14 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What an amazing book. Mary Roach has once again enthralled me with a behind-the-scenes look at one may or may not happen to your body after you die. An incredible historical journey from grave robbers to medical science to car crash tests. Make sure you write in your will what you want done with your body after you die!
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5.0 out of 5 stars STIFF, excellent book. April 9 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An intriguing and amusing book, despite the subject matter, recommended by two friends. I'm glad I purchased this book. Well done Ms Roach!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very informative Oct. 7 2008
By A. M. Metner TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This is on my top 10 list of great books.
If you've ever wondered what happens to the body after you die, this is very insightful. From explaining the decompositon to historical body snatchers (using bodies for anatomy research) to what actually happens if you dedicate your body to science, it's worth a read.
It's not morbid as much as it is factual and funny. Roach has her own "tell it like it is" no-nonesense apporach. If you don't want to spend years of your life doing research (history, biology, forensics), sit back and go for a ride with Mary!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious and strangely informative May 4 2009
This book was not only extremely informative (from a scientific and historic aspect), but it was hilarious in a morbidly funny kind of way. Mary Roach maintains a light tone in her writing style throughout this book, which contributes to the greatness of it, as many people will automatically assume it is dark and heavy read. This book will entertain and educate readers and it is laugh out loud funny!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Caution - Read in public at your own risk. June 15 2007
Picture sitting in an airport laughing until you cried while reading a book called "Stiff" with a picture of a cadaver on the front of it. I'm lucky I didn't get pulled aside at security. Every page of this unlikely book is a gem. I found myself reading out loud to anyone who would listen. Mary Roach has a curious mind and an entertaining way of writing and the two combined make for a top notch read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down! Dec 14 2011
This book was awesome. And scary. In short Roach investigates that happens when people donate their bodies to science. And in page after page, Roach takes you on a journey from plastic surgeons learning new techniques on the heads of corpses to automobile manufacturers looking at the impacts of car crashes, to the devastating effects of ammunition.

For anyone who has any interest in what happens to our physical bodies after we pass from this earth, this book is a must read. And for anyone who is considering donating their bodies to science when they die, I highly recommend giving this book read too. Trust me. You won't be disappointed.
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