WE RECOMMEND: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Roach, Mary. Stiff : The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. Call number: R853 .H8 R635 2003.

“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. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.” So starts the introduction to the book Stiff. If you laughed, you’ll enjoy this book. If you feel the least bit of revulsion, reach for another book. Mary Roach is also the author of Spook : science tackles the afterlife (BL535 .R63 2006), Bonk : the curious coupling of science and sex (QP251 .R568 2009) and Packing for Mars: the curious science of life in the void (not owned). Roach says she write about what interests her. Twelve chapters focus on different ‘uses’ of human cadavers: plastic surgery practice, anatomical research, crash testing, and others. Though the humor is dark, Roach does sometimes leave it behind, to discuss the practical and ethical aspects of cadaver research. The living are the beneficiaries of this research, by providing better vehicle restraints, understanding of air crashes, and more safety for those clearing land mines. The humor does occasionally stray into bad taste territory, but mostly serves to keep the tone light enough to seriously consider the work she describes. Roach’s accounts are vivid, focusing on the people she’s interviewing and on the studies at hand. This title is easily read, with non-technical language, and rather dark humor. There’s even a reading group guide in the back. Don’t skip the introduction, it does a great job of setting the way for the book. And the inevitable question is answered at the end, when Roach reveals her own wishes about her mortal remains, which made me think about my final wishes.

-Jim Hobbs, Online Services Coordinator

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