Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

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The book Stiff is a fascinating compilation of author Mary Roach’s research on the human cadaver.  This isn’t just your average list of facts and figures, but an in-depth exploration about the many different situations a cadaver can find itself in once its animating essence has flown away.  So, let’s talk about the second-to-last book in my Friends & Family Top Picks Reading Challenge.

We shall begin with the topics covered in this book.  They are extremely wide-ranging and I really had no idea that there were so many things that could happen to a person’s body after they died.  There are sections about plastic surgery, dissection, early anatomists and body snatching, the study of human decay, embalming, car impact studies, army research, the shroud of Turin, organ harvesting, the use of cadavers for medicinal purposes, cannibalism, composting cadavers, and plastinated cadavers.

Firstly, I am a bit squeamish about things like human cadavers.  Secondly, I’m even more squeamish when somebody starts talking about cutting them open, etc.  With that being said, I was able to make it through the entire book.  Mary Roach has a wonderful gift for making this subject matter palatable by injecting just the right amount of humor when things get too uncomfortable.

As for the information she shared about cadavers, it was absolutely fascinating.  Mary did a very thorough job of researching the subject and sharing it with readers in a cohesive, logical and entertaining manner.  I know much more about cadavers than I ever thought I would care to know, but I feel better for knowing it.  As strange as that may sound, this book made me realize how important it is to understand the end of our lives, just as we would seek to understand any stage between conception and death.

I’d also like to share a couple of my favorite quotes from the book which highlight Mary’s style of writing:

“And ever since, the U.S. Army has gone confidently into battle, knowing that when cows attack, their men will be ready.” (p. 134)

“He is telling me about the pine beetle epidemic in the area.  I point to a stand of dead conifers in the woods a quarter mile back behind the target.  ‘Like over there?’  Scottie says no.  He says they died of bullet wounds, something I never knew pine trees could do.” (p.140-141)

I highly recommend this book to adult readers who are not overly offended (or disgusted) by a frank discussion about the human body after death.  You will be utterly fascinated by this book.

If you’ve already read Stiff, please let me know what you thought of it!

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time,

Lori

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