Stiff The curious lives of human cadavers

Mary Roach

Book - 2003

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New York : W.W. Norton 2003.
Physical Description
303 p. : ill
Includes bibliographical references.
Main Author
Mary Roach (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Donating one's body to science sounds like an altruistic farewell for the betterment of humanity. Noble it may be, but most would prefer not to know what happens to a corpse in the name of research. Not our intrepid author. Some donors arrive at the expected places, such as anatomy classrooms, but would a person willingly assent to her postmortem decapitation so plastic surgeons could practice on her head unencumbered by the torso? Better not to wonder--yet Roach cheerily does as she attends to doings at medical schools, crash research labs, and mortuary schools. Her lab-coated guides seem delighted to see her come calling, which she reciprocates by praising the good that cadavers do (revealing the kinematics of car and plane crashes), along with (gulp) their appearance and olfactory condition. Roach writes in an insouciant style and displays her metier in tangents about bizarre incidents in pathological history. Death may have the last laugh, but, in the meantime, Roach finds merriment in the macabre. ((Reviewed March 15, 2003)) Copyright 2003 Booklist Reviews

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Despite the irreverent, macabre title, this is a respectful and serious examination of what happens to cadavers, past and present. Salon columnist Roach explains how surgeons and doctors use cadavers donated for research purposes to help the living, and also examines potential new variations on how we bury the dead. She explores some interesting historical side avenues as well: the use of corpses to test the guillotine, earlier anatomical beliefs, grave robbers, the elixirs various civilizations concocted out of corpses for medicinal purposes, and, most important, how cadavers provided valuable information to us for understanding such plane crashes as TWA Flight 800. Roach also addresses philosophical issues. This unusual study is recommended for large public libraries and medical collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences, RTP, NC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Not grisly but inspiring, this work considers the many valuable scientific uses of the body after death. Drawn from the author's popular Salon column. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

"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. Agent, Jay Mandel. (Apr.) Forecast: Do we detect a trend to necrophilia? Two years ago it was mummies; in the last few months we have seen an account of the journeys of the corpse of Elmer McCurdy and a defense of undertakers; and now comes Roach's disquisition on cadavers. But death is, after all, a subject that just won't go away. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

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.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A look inside the world of forensics examines the use of human cadavers in a wide range of endeavors, including research into new surgical procedures, space exploration, and a Tennessee human decay research facility.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A compelling look inside the world of forensics examines the use of human cadavers in a wide range of endeavors, including research into new surgical procedures, the testing of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, space exploration, a Tennessee human decay research facility, and a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. Reprint. 100,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

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. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

"One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year....Gross, educational, and unexpectedly sidesplitting."—Entertainment Weekly