Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source: Public library
Sensitive reader: fairly detailed blood and guts account of the human anatomy
Preparing a Thanksgiving meal may never be the same after reading Stiff, Mary Roach’s eerie, but fascinating look at the life (or is it death?) of the human cadaver. In the opening chapter, Mary is visiting an anatomy lab where 40 heads are waiting in aluminum roasting pans (the ones used for roasting turkeys!) for a group of doctors to refresh their skills as plastic surgeons. We may be eating ham next week.
Thus begins this strange and macabre, but respectful and very funny narration about the necessity of studying, practicing, dissecting, decaying, freezing, embalming, harvesting, and other uses of the deceased human body.
Some of the more interesting tidbits: The University of Tennessee has the ONLY “body farm” – where they study decaying bodies in an open field; the injuries (or lack thereof) of the victims of the TWA flight 800 that exploded off of Long Island were used to solve the mystery of what caused disaster; the gruesome and grisly tales of “bodysnatching” in the early 19th century and the doctors who profited from it.
For such a morbid topic, Mary’s dialogue provided much comic relief (but not at the expense of the dead) to what could have been a stomach turning downer.
I must say – there were several chapters where I nearly lost my lunch – I almost quit reading during Chapter 3 about the body farm – it was fairly graphic (measuring maggots, liquid human decay – yuck!). And her eyewitness account of a “human organ recovery” or organ donation surgery was just so, so sad. But I persevered and I’m glad I finished.
Finally, “Mary Roach is the funniest science writer in the country…Stiff tells us where the bodies are, what they are up to, and the astonishing tales they still have to tell. Best of all it manages, somehow, to find the humor in human cadavers without robbing them of their dignity…Long live the dead.”
I completely agree.
View all my reviews