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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003)

by Mary Roach

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9,046412586 (4.1)575
An oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For 2,000 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.… (more)
Recently added bymsrigglewrites, donnayam, private library, licplate, hdmann, Jaymeb, StacyRomberger, BeeAfraid, Yells
  1. 121
    Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach (alaskabookworm)
  2. 30
    Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These engaging, unusual accounts deal with the human body after death. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes wittily relates the work of an assistant in a crematorium, while Stiff presents an entertaining account of what happens with cadavers.
  3. 31
    The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead by Heather Pringle (FFortuna)
  4. 31
    A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Nineteenth-Century America by Michael Sappol (meggyweg)
  5. 21
    Lenin's Embalmers by Ilya Zbarsky (bertilak)
  6. 10
    Shocked : adventures in bringing back the recently dead by David Casarett M.D. (PuddinTame)
    PuddinTame: If you liked either on of these books, I recommend trying the other author. Both offer nitty-gritty medical details leavened with humor, which helps make the gross details more bearable. For my money, Mary Roach is funnier, but I thoroughly enjoyed both authors… (more)
  7. 10
    The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut's Mummy by Jo Marchant (sboyte)
  8. 10
    Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  9. 11
    The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  10. 11
    No Stone Unturned: The Story of Necrosearch International Investigators by Steve Jackson (grizzly.anderson)
  11. 22
    The Dead Janitors Club: Pathetically True Tales of a Crime Scene Cleanup King by Jeff Klima (infiniteletters)
  12. 01
    Never Suck A Dead Man's Hand: Curious Adventures of a CSI by Dana Kollmann (meggyweg)
  13. 01
    The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers by Scott Carney (meggyweg)
  14. 02
    The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey (MyriadBooks)
  15. 14
    Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (jbarry)
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» See also 575 mentions

English (405)  Italian (4)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (411)
Showing 1-5 of 405 (next | show all)
Fascinating, and engagingly written. ( )
  elenaj | Jul 31, 2020 |
It takes a skilled hand to write about death and bodies without being either so respectful as to be boring or just morbid. Luckily, Mary Roach has just such a hand and her book, Stiff, is an interesting and wide-ranging look at what happens to us when we die. Well, no one really knows what happens to the soul/spirit/whatever it is that animates us (she does devote a chapter to this, which she develops into a book in its own right, Spook), but our bodies. There's the usual burial/cremation, but Roach is more interested in the options we don't usually consider: donating one's body to science for medical students to practice anatomy on, chemical cremation, even allowing for the use of one's body in automobile crash testing (the dummies aren't nearly realistic enough). Some people even want to be composted. It turns out there are a lot of things your body can get up to!

Death may be a part of life, but it's still a part of life that there are a lot of deep, unprocessed feelings about. This book only works because of the way Roach just nails the tone: there's a deep undercurrent of honest curiosity that's present as she explores her subject. She recounts her own experience sitting with her mother's body after her death and how it made her feel, and doesn't forget that the bodies she sees in her explorations were once someone else's loved one too. She's honest about the ugly side of things...to the point where I found one of the chapters, about using bodies to do research about how the body decomposes under various scenarios (to help law enforcement and pathologists/coroners better estimate how long bodies have been in the elements after death) a little icky. But it never feels gratuitous. She doesn't say something irreverent or gross just for the shock factor. If you've ever wondered what happens to the outside of you when you die, or if you're curious now that you've thought about it, this is an intriguing book and I highly recommend it. ( )
  GabbyHM | Jun 24, 2020 |
2016 (review can be found at the link - which is a LibraryThing page)
https://www.librarything.com/topic/226898#5842003 ( )
  dchaikin | Jun 21, 2020 |
What happens to our bodies after we die? Some are buried, some are burned, some are carved up for reuse parts, some a studied and these aren't even all the choices. Mary Roach covers the all the bases here both contempoary and historcally and it's fascinating. It is an interesting topic but Roach's writing style makes it also amusing and a really good read. Her footnotes alone are worth opening the cover. This is, I'm not kidding here, a fun book. ( )
  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
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!" ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 405 (next | show all)
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Roach, Maryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frasier, ShellyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship.
The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken.
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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393324826, 0393050939

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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