- Series: Alex Awards (Awards)
- Hardcover: 303 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (April 17, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780393050936
- ISBN-13: 978-0393050936
- ASIN: 0393050939
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,653 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
"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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
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, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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It’s a fascinating subject, and one that put Roach on the map – and having read the book, it’s not hard to see why. Done wrongly, the book could seem insensitive, ghoulish, or just depressing. But Roach celebrates these cadavers, reminding the reader just how much has been gained from this research and just how important these bodies have been to not only medicine, but to our society as a whole. At the same time, she never shies away from the discomfort people feel; indeed, one of the most compelling threads in each chapter is discussing with the various people she meets how they manage to maintain a proper emotional balance when they’re working with the dead all the time.
Roach is more of a presence in Stiff than she is in Grunt; it feels like more of a first book, and something she might grow away from as she went. But that also feels like a key part of why the book works; after all, death is a fundamentally personal event, and there’s little way to read Stiff and not spend time thinking about what you would want done with your own remains, be it cremation, burial, donation, or more. And Roach builds her own debate into the book, concluding the book with a chapter that finds her pondering what to do with her own remains, having done all these studies and researches into our possible fates.
But lest that sound too heavy, Stiff is every bit as engaging and fun as you would hope from Roach’s reputation. Her digressive footnotes and odd asides are still evident, her willingness to ask questions no less charming, and her ability to bring a light tone to even heavy subject matters no less welcome. More than that, she finds depth and thoughtfulness to discuss beyond what you would expect, to the point where you get the impression that she could write a whole second book about bodies and never run out of things to say. That she does all this while being incredibly informative, demonstrating a gift for conveying complex things quickly, and managing to even tell stories, is just testament to her skills as a writer, and the deservedness of her reputation.
I absolutely love Mary Roach’s writing style! She’s hilarious without being disrespectful, and I can’t imagine anyone being able to write about this subject as well as she does. She keeps the reader engaged and asks the questions we are all curious about. . .well at least the questions I was curious about. This was a fascinating and at times a disturbing read. If you get nauseous easy this may not be the book for you. This may also not be the book for you if you are an animal lover. There are several sections that discuss experiments on animals – the same or similar experiments that are being done on cadavers – that was very difficult for me to read.
She has a dry sense of humor which lightened up things and I found her amusing and very real, considering the dark subject matter. I had absolutely no idea what went on with donated human remains for research, and I would encourage anyone whose considering being a donor to read this book before giving away your brain . . . or any other part of your beloved body.
Roach dissects every postmortem dilemma we all must face one day, for ourselves or a loved one, including burial options, and there's a lot of thought needed for making these decisions. Her honest research and interviews with professionals on both sides of the tracks . . . from
the conservatives, who wish to go no further than the status quo of burial practices and the forward thinking environmentalists who are looking to compost remains to grow vegetables. All in all, though hard to face, this book is enlightening, sensitive and brave! I commend Ms. Roach on this fearless endeavor and recommend you give it a try.
Note that the author is irreverent, but in my opinion, not disrespectful. She clearly understands the emotional difference between an anonymous cadaver and your beloved relative's remains, but she tells the truth: one way or another, everybody's molecules re-enter the planetary pool.
I'll quote the first paragraph of the introduction to give you a sense of Mary Roach's style:
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 down on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.
I loved this book. Occasionally the humor feels a bit forced, but I definitely laughed out loud a few times. And the stories deserve to be told. In this age of funeral homes and hospital death, who among us has any sense of what happens to a dead body, either by natural decay or by the ministrations of a mortician? And who knew how many noble uses there are for cadavers donated to science?
Okay, some of you many not want to know. Then go read your Malcolm Gladwell and be at peace.
For the rest of us, read this book. Just don't expect to discuss it over dinner.