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. 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.
"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. --Gilbert Taylor"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
""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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved