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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003) Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversI was wandering the bookstore and Stiff was sitting on one of the display tables, one of the “Recommended Summer Reading” tables or something like that. I’d heard a review or interview or something like that when it first came out, but never ran across it, and forgot about it, but I remembered hearing/reading about it, and so picked it up to flip through it. I glanced at Chapter 1:

The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I had never before had occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan, resting face up on what looks to be a small pet-food bowl. The heads are for plastic surgeons, two per head, to practice on. I’m observing a facial anatomy and face-lift refresher course, sponsored by a medical center sponsored by a southern university medical center and led by a half-dozen of America’s most sought-after face-lifters.

The heads have been put in roasting pans–which are of the disposable aluminum variety–for the same reason chickens are put in roasting pans: to catch the drippings. Surgery, even surgery upon the dead, is a tidy, orderly affair.

After that, I kept reading as I wandered back to find Michael, and continued reading all the way to the checkout line.

I thoroughly enjoyed Stiff.

Mary Roach’s writing style was both entertaining and engaging, and never morbid, which was a distinct possibility considering the subject matter. Although her tone was entertaining, I don’t think feel that she was ever disrespectful. Although, she seems to believe that a corpse is only a shell where someone used to live. After death, whatever creates or causes life has disappeared.

The book covers different areas of what happens to corpses. Donated bodies can be used for practice surgery, she discusses the history of body snatching, there is a study of the decay and decomposition of human bodies, the use of bodies to test safety devices, autopsy to determine what happened in a crash, the use of cadavers to determine what happens to bodies who are exposed to bombs and bullets, crucifixion experiments, brain death and the fear of live burial, head transplants, medical cannibalism, the disposal of human remains, and what the author plans to have done with her remains.
My favorite chapters were the ones on what happens to bodies that have been donated to science, including the ethics of using those bodies for different kinds of experiments and testing.

If you have a morbid curiosity, or are just curious about what happens to your body when you die, then you may want to check out Stiff, it’s a fascinating look at cadavers and corpses and scientific experimentation.
Rating: 8/10

Categories: 8/10, Non-Fiction, Paper, Science & Nature

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