- Paperback: 303 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (May 17, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393324826
- ISBN-13: 978-0393324822
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,645 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers 1st Edition
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“This quirky, funny read offers perspective and insight about life, death and the medical profession.... You can close this book with an appreciation of the miracle that the human body really is.”
- Tara Parker-Pope, Wall Street Journal
“A laugh-out-loud funny book... one of those wonderful books that offers up enlightenment in the guise of entertainment.”
- Michael Little, Washington City Paper
“As weird as the book gets, Roach manages to convey a sense of respect and appreciation for her subjects.”
- Roy Rivenburg, Los Angeles Times
“Roach is authoritative, endlessly curious and drolly funny. Her research is scrupulous and winningly presented.”
- Adam Woog, Seattle Times
“Mary Roach is one of an endangered species: a science writer with a sense of humor. She is able to make macabre funny without looting death of its dignity.”
- Brian Richard Boylan, Denver Post
“Roach writes in an insouciant style and displays her métier 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, Booklist
“Acutely entertaining, morbidly fascinating.”
- Susan Adams, Forbes
About the Author
Mary Roach is the author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Her writing has appeared in Outside, Wired, National Geographic, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.
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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.
In s world of reality television and memes it is rare to read a book with lots of stuff one truly never knew existed,but "Stiff" provides just that.
The book provides entry into s secret world rarely thought about, where death - and by extension life - are studied and pored over, smelt, touched and tasted.
Yes, tasted. No spoilers here. You will have to read all about it yourself.
Roach deftly weaves the fruits of her intense research of the past (grave robbing, experiments with guillotined heads in old France) with observations of present practices, providing macabre history lessons that resonate with practical "who knew?" holy s--- moments.
The book is not for the squeamish. The chapter on putrefaction should not be read before or during a meal. Or for a while after. This coming from an experienced crime reporter with a cast-iron stomach.
So be forewarned.
The author injects a good deal of humor into the book, but be forewarned as well that it does not always work. The one-liners, no doubt the product of a desire to keep the narratives palatable to the reader and perhaps the author herself, are used a little too liberally. The problem is that they tend to distract from the overall effort. Nonetheless, it's not enough to detract from the authority, sensitivity and diligence Roach brings to this unique and thorough work.