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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003)

by Mary Roach

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
11,071458631 (4.09)612
Medical. Science. Nonfiction. Humor (Nonfiction.) HTML:

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.

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… (more)
  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)
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    The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  7. 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)
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    The Dead Janitors Club: Pathetically True Tales of a Crime Scene Cleanup King by Jeff Klima (infiniteletters)
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    No Stone Unturned: The Story of Necrosearch International Investigators by Steve Jackson (grizzly.anderson)
  10. 00
    The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut's Mummy by Jo Marchant (sboyte)
  11. 00
    Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  12. 01
    Never Suck A Dead Man's Hand: Curious Adventures of a CSI by Dana Kollmann (meggyweg)
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    The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers by Scott Carney (meggyweg)
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    The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey (MyriadBooks)
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    Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (jbarry)
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» See also 612 mentions

English (449)  Italian (4)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (455)
Showing 1-5 of 449 (next | show all)
A very interesting read, and entertaining as well. The last third or so, was not as interesting and lowered the total rating for me. But I would still recommend it to anyone who's curious about the subject! ( )
  ib4 | Jul 22, 2024 |
This book is fascinating, and also pretty gross. I can only imagine some of the faces that I made while listening to the more disgusting portions. Stiff covers a wide range of topics involving the human body and it does a great job of fitting a lot of information into a 300 page book without it feeling bogged down. ( )
  zeronetwo | May 14, 2024 |
despite the subject matter, a wonderfully funny book ( )
  cspiwak | Mar 6, 2024 |
I listened to this audiobook and I loved the narrator. She caught exactly the humour that Mary Roach infused into this subject which seems like the last topic you could make enjoyable.

Mary Roach examines all the ways in which dead bodies can be and have been disposed of. Much of the book is about using cadavers for scientific research or teaching anatomy. I've always known that medical and other students need dead bodies in order to study human anatomy. As a person who didn't even want to dissect a rat in biology I know that would be something I could never do. However, it does seem like a good idea for people who want to treat humans to know how all the organs and bones and muscles work. I'm still not convinced to leave my body for that use although I signed my organ donor card decades ago. But some of the other uses of cadavers were surprising to me, such as using them to test what happens in car crashes. Apparently, crash test dummies just can't replicate the way a real body will handle an air bag release when a vehicle is hit. Roach managed to get into all kinds of labs where cadavers are used and she seemed to really enjoy that. Again, not my cup of tea.

The chapters on alternatives to burial or cremation were the most interesting to me. I long ago decided I wasn't going to be put into a coffin and take up a plot of land. About the only other alternative is to be cremated but there may be a time coming when bodies could be composted or freeze-dried and broken into powder. I like the idea of this greener alternative to cremation but it is not available in Canada yet. I wonder what Greenpeace and the David Suzuki Foundation have to say about green ways of disposing of your body.

This book was first released 20 years ago but Roach has done an afterword for a new edition. Unfortunately, this audiobook didn't include that. I watched a Q & A Zoom session with Roach but if other readers don't have that opportunity, then I recommend getting the updated book. ( )
  gypsysmom | Mar 4, 2024 |
I really enjoyed this book. I never believed that a book about death & cadavers could be funny, but the author managed to sneak humor in there along with lots of interesting information. I would definitely recommend this book - except to anyone with a weak stomach. ( )
  thatnerd | Mar 2, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 449 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roach, Maryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frasier, ShellyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For wonderful Ed
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Medical. Science. Nonfiction. Humor (Nonfiction.) HTML:

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.

.

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