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Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner Hardcover – August 12, 2014
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“Far from the magic we see on TV, Working Stiff describes forensic pathology in the real world. The book is a compelling and absorbing read.” (Kathy Reichs, author of the Temperance Brennan "Bones" series)
"Fascinating case studies and a refreshing irreverence toward death and autopsies make Working Stiff a funny and engrossing read." (Sandeep Jauhar, author of "Intern: A Doctor's Initiation" and "Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician")
“Working Stiff is an engrossing and revealing glimpse into the making of a medical examiner with a searing insider's view into working at the New York Medical Examiner's Office during and just after 9/11. The story of how the author dealt with her father's suicide during childhood and later had to deal with suicides as part of her duties is wrenching and compelling." (Jan Garavaglia, M.D. (Dr. G from the Discovery Channel Series and author of "How Not to Die")
"A riveting read, at once compassionate and morbidly fascinating." (Todd Harra, author of "Over Our Dead Bodies")
"Working Stiff is an eye-opening, gripping account of the life of a forensic pathologist working in New York City. Whether dealing with routine autopsies, surviving relatives, or the catastrophe of September 11, Dr. Judy Melinek reveals the dignity of being human in the face of death." (Leora Tanenbaum, author of "Taking Back God")
"In this engrossing tale of how Melinek became a forensic pathologist, she pulls back the sheet to show readers just what goes on after someone dies... Armchair detectives and would-be forensic pathologists will find Melinek’s well-written account to be inspiring and engaging." (Publishers Weekly)
"Both chilling and heart-warming at the same time, Judy Melinek's account explains how empathy and humanity are as important working with the dead as they are with the living. She strikes the balance just right in helping us better understand what we most fear, yet still fear it all the same." (Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director, PEN America Center)
"Melinek’s enthusiasm for her calling is always apparent, and her writing is un–self-consciously bouncy, absorbed and mordant (though not caustic).... A transfixing account of death, from the mundane to the oddly hair-raising." (Kirkus Reviews)
Working Stiff is the grossest book you'll ever love. But it is also so much more than that: Seamlessly fusing memoir, science journalism, riveting whodunit mysteries, and light humor about a dark topic, Working Stiff is a relentlessly fascinating and informative book from the first page to the last. Judy Melinek--whether she's re-enacting assaults in a courtroom while heavily pregnant, or fighting with lazy homicide detectives, or solving amazing forensic mysteries through the ghastly things she does with her corpses--is an unfailingly charming and even inspiring guide to the world of medical examiners. A remarkable achievement by Mitchell and Melinek. (Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic magazine, and author of the New York Times Bestseller "My Age of Anxiety")
"Spellbinding. . . . Melinek is movingly empathetic toward the families of victims. . . . An unforgettable story." (Booklist starred review)
"Working Stiff is a page-turning, engrossing book that reveals a hidden world and shows that the work of understanding death is actually a labor of life.” (Sciencethrillers.com)
"Melinek chronicles her time at the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner — and it’s nothing like what you see on television." (New York Post)
“The flamboyant disclosures—how to handle rotting flesh or use pruning shears to snap ribs—are balanced by her soul-baring account of identifying human remains in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September 2001.” (Nature Magazine)
"An enthusiastic, readable chronicle of decomposition and poison residues, homicide and rape kits, crime scenes and court testimony, and working on bodies from the terrorist attacks of 9/11.” (Washington Post)
“Fun, sentimental where appropriate and full of smart science. Fans of CSI — the real kind — will want to read it.” (Washington Post)
"Working Stiff is an account of Melinek's years in training, complete with gory details, heartfelt emotions and plenty of ripped-from-the-headlines case studies. This mixture of nonfiction and narrative makes for compelling, informative reading as Melinek works through cases of homicide, accidental death, medical error and suicide--and becomes even more powerful as the authors recount the harrowing weeks and months following the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, which brought more bodies and death to Melinek's door than ever before." (Shelf Awareness)
"Haunting and illuminating...the stories from [Dr. Melinek's] average workdays should also transfix the reader with their demonstration that medical science can diagnose and console long after the heartbeat stops." (New York Times)
"[Melinek's] true, frank and often funny account, written with her husband TJ Mitchell, reveals how as a young forensic pathologist her “rookie season” brought some incredibly harrowing deaths that would have rocked a less strong personality to the core in the Big Apple." (Mirror UK)
About the Author
Judy Melinek is a forensic pathologist and an associate clinical professor at UCSF Medical Center. She earned her college degree from Harvard and received her medical degree and pathology residency training at UCLA. She has worked and lived in San Francisco with her husband, T.J. Mitchell, and their children since 2004.
T.J. Mitchell graduated with an English degree from Harvard and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad in 2000.
Top customer reviews
doing the unthinkable . I could not put this book down for hours.......it is so well written that you are right there with her .....no......that, not very many people could endure, but, I cried, even smiled once in a great while, she is some one to behold!! I will never forget this fantastically written book nor this unbelievable woman.
If you don't get squeamish, you will enjoy this read and learn the mater-of-fact and respectful approach that is taken by such an unrecognized field. In fact, you may fear death a little less after this read.
Well written. Would recommend.
It also gives a very descriptive albeit sad account of 9/11 in the eyes of the medical examiners who received the bodies after the fall of the twin towers. I can't imagine the stress and trauma that befell all of them after trying to identify not only the bodies but the thousands of body pieces that came through their office.
Working Stiff succeeds as a multi-part mystery novel, a fun science lesson(s), a poignant September 11th memorial, and, in a strange way, a love story: The authors are a husband/wife team, and though the story is ostensibly of the wife's fascinating workday tales, you strongly feel the husband's loving presence as the two of them navigate a way for her to honor her unique talents and become the family breadwinner.
It's got lots of detail, some deliciously gory (you can skip the parts you don't like) based on apparently years worth of detailed notes that Dr. Melinek wrote in a journal every day. The individual cases are structured so that some are simple learning lessons and others are ongoing mysteries that you're invited to think through with Dr. Melinek as she experiences it. Amusingly, she also points out how the CSI-type shows get it all wrong!
Finally, I was touched by the level of personal intimacy that Dr. Melinek invites the reader to share. She shares a harrowing story about the family tragedy that brought her to forensic pathology, and brings it up throughout her memoir as you can see how it affects her choices throughout her career. I also respected her choice here to admit her mistakes so that we have a more honest picture of how the process fits together, and the emotional toll on the professionals who take on this job.
Well done to Mr. Mitchell and Dr. Melinek for a smart book that you honestly won't be able to put down till you're done.
Most recent customer reviews
Peeking into the world of a large city medical examiner was, at the same time,
interesting and horrifying. Loved it!