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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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Product Description

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
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
Format:Paperback
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 Engrossing To The End Aug. 3 2005
Format:Paperback
Mary Roach has taken it upon herself to research the history of cadaver research, which can't have been a barrel of laughs. Nevertheless, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a concise, intensely readable, frequently hilarious survey of the strange uses to which human bodies are put.
"A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste" follows the author as she observes a group of surgeons giving face-lifts to decapitated heads. Sounds like a frivolous use for a body donated "to science," but plastic surgeons need to practice somewhere, and a corpse can't sue over a botched nose job. Roach points out that "heads aren't cut off out of ghoulishness. They are cut off so that someone else can make use of the other pieces: arms, legs, organs." And indeed, the unembalmed heads are treated respectfully, covered with cloths before and after the seminar; nobody's making impromptu hand puppets or throwing eyeballs around. They're here to learn, and the heads, though discomfiting, are an invaluable aid.
"Crimes of Anatomy" explores the history of body-snatching. Historically, the religious believed that the physical body was necessary for resurrection, so people weren't too eager to hand over their ticket to heaven; for this reason, dissection was sometimes tacked on to a death sentence for particularly heinous crimes. Enterprising anatomists worked around the lack of donors by nabbing corpses out of graves, or hiring someone (who couldn't possibly have been paid enough) to do it for them. French anatomists had it easier, as the unclaimed bodies of those who died in city hospitals were up for grabs. Now that human anatomy is understood and exhaustively documented, whole-body dissection is being phased out; some schools are switching over to computer simulations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing To The End July 13 2005
Format:Paperback
Mary Roach has taken it upon herself to research the history of cadaver research, which can't have been a barrel of laughs. Nevertheless, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a concise, intensely readable, frequently hilarious survey of the strange uses to which human bodies are put.
"A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste" follows the author as she observes a group of surgeons giving face-lifts to decapitated heads. Sounds like a frivolous use for a body donated "to science," but plastic surgeons need to practice somewhere, and a corpse can't sue over a botched nose job. Roach points out that "heads aren't cut off out of ghoulishness. They are cut off so that someone else can make use of the other pieces: arms, legs, organs." And indeed, the unembalmed heads are treated respectfully, covered with cloths before and after the seminar; nobody's making impromptu hand puppets or throwing eyeballs around. They're here to learn, and the heads, though discomfiting, are an invaluable aid.
"Crimes of Anatomy" explores the history of body-snatching. Historically, the religious believed that the physical body was necessary for resurrection, so people weren't too eager to hand over their ticket to heaven; for this reason, dissection was sometimes tacked on to a death sentence for particularly heinous crimes. Enterprising anatomists worked around the lack of donors by nabbing corpses out of graves, or hiring someone (who couldn't possibly have been paid enough) to do it for them. French anatomists had it easier, as the unclaimed bodies of those who died in city hospitals were up for grabs. Now that human anatomy is understood and exhaustively documented, whole-body dissection is being phased out; some schools are switching over to computer simulations.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing To The End June 17 2005
Format:Paperback
Mary Roach has taken it upon herself to research the history of cadaver research, which can't have been a barrel of laughs. Nevertheless, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a concise, intensely readable, frequently hilarious survey of the strange uses to which human bodies are put.
"A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste" follows the author as she observes a group of surgeons giving face-lifts to decapitated heads. Sounds like a frivolous use for a body donated "to science," but plastic surgeons need to practice somewhere, and a corpse can't sue over a botched nose job. Roach points out that "heads aren't cut off out of ghoulishness. They are cut off so that someone else can make use of the other pieces: arms, legs, organs." And indeed, the unembalmed heads are treated respectfully, covered with cloths before and after the seminar; nobody's making impromptu hand puppets or throwing eyeballs around. They're here to learn, and the heads, though discomfiting, are an invaluable aid.
"Crimes of Anatomy" explores the history of body-snatching. Historically, the religious believed that the physical body was necessary for resurrection, so people weren't too eager to hand over their ticket to heaven; for this reason, dissection was sometimes tacked on to a death sentence for particularly heinous crimes. Enterprising anatomists worked around the lack of donors by nabbing corpses out of graves, or hiring someone (who couldn't possibly have been paid enough) to do it for them. French anatomists had it easier, as the unclaimed bodies of those who died in city hospitals were up for grabs. Now that human anatomy is understood and exhaustively documented, whole-body dissection is being phased out; some schools are switching over to computer simulations.
Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Wanted to Read This For Ages
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... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Nicola Mansfield
5.0 out of 5 stars Humorous and informative!
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. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mikeyxx
5.0 out of 5 stars Stiff - Anything But!
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. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Andrew Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars STIFF, excellent book.
An intriguing and amusing book, despite the subject matter, recommended by two friends. I'm glad I purchased this book. Well done Ms Roach!
Published on April 9 2012 by bellesque
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down!
This book was awesome. And scary. In short Roach investigates that happens when people donate their bodies to science. Read more
Published on Dec 14 2011 by NorthVan Dave
4.0 out of 5 stars So interesting!
What a great book!
Mary Roach answers questions I would never have even though to ask!

She has really inspired me to think about the various options for what I want... Read more
Published on May 25 2009 by MD
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious and strangely informative
This book was not only extremely informative (from a scientific and historic aspect), but it was hilarious in a morbidly funny kind of way. Read more
Published on May 4 2009 by mellyboo
5.0 out of 5 stars very informative
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. Read more
Published on Oct. 7 2008 by A. M. Metner
5.0 out of 5 stars You laugh, you'll cry, you'll vomit - and it's worth it all
This book gets two severed thumbs up. I enjoyed it immensly, I just don't recommend reading it on your lunch hour - if you actually want to enjoy your lunch. Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2005 by Meagan
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