The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Book - 2003
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Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers--some willingly, some unwittingly--have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.

In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries--from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.
ISBN: 9780393050936
Characteristics: 303 pages :,illustrations ;,22 cm.


From Library Staff

While a somewhat macabre topic, Mary Roach's exploration of the many different things a human body can do once it ceases to be living is engrossing (and sometimes gross). From crash tests to forensics to alternate methods of cremation, the book is filled with bizarre and fascinating information p... Read More »

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Nov 29, 2017

Fantastic read! Mary Roach gives a unique perspective to a topic that many people are uncomfortable with or don't want to talk about. She provides wonderful humor in a book that spares no detail with corpses.

Jun 08, 2017

Mary Roach is a great author, and I enjoy all of her books, no matter what the topic!

May 23, 2017

I wasnt as intrigued with this as other people were. Its possible I didnt give it enough time seeing how I didnt even finish the book.

Oct 26, 2016

The book is researched well and covers a lot of ground. Roach does a good job of balancing respect for the dead and a bit of irreverence. I grew up with a nurse and some of her humor reminds me of what I heard from my mom and her friends. Personally, I'm interested in being composted and being used to grew at least one tree so that it can be turned into books. That's definitely a green choice.

If you're squeamish, do not read this book. It's about dead bodies, which is plainly given in the title. I skipped the chapter on plane accidents because I'm not always comfortable flying and the chapter unnerved me a bit. I don't think I missed anything by doing so. I don't understand why people read/watch/listen to things they know will bother them and then complain about it, which I've seen with this book.

Oct 15, 2016

Read this when it first came out and I was working in the funeral industry. Fascinating book.

Sep 26, 2016

Fascinating read about a weird but ultimately very educational topic! I never knew how many uses you could put a good cadaver to, and how much it helps our living world in so many ways.

Aug 24, 2016

hard to understand

Admit it, you want to know all the gruesome ins and outs of what happens to your body after death. Hey, we're all gonna die! We might as well get an informed report from a sly and witty storyteller. Roach's clinical research is thorough to a fault, often wandering into bizarre tangent lands. Overall you get a delicious story of the corpse's life. Memento mori.

mvkramer Jul 12, 2016

You may not expect a book about dead bodies to be so hilarious - but trust me, this book is just that. Reading this book is like sitting down to converse with your weird friend - very discursive, running off on tangents all the time, but still extremely interesting and informative. Also, it may sell you on human composting. Highly recommended!

Jun 15, 2016

Thinking about donating your body to science? Mary Roach tells you exactly how you might end up and the good you could do. People think donating your body to science means donating organs, and sometimes it does, but their are many other ways the dead help us living folks. Cadavers can be car crash dummies, which might sound cruel but really isn't, and they help save countless lives by helping car manufacturers build safer cars. People who's bodies have been donated to science can even help catch murderers. The University of Tennessee Medical Center has a program that studies body decomposition to help medical examiners be able to pinpoint what day, even what time of day, someone was murdered! Though Roach tells about modern day research she also gives a wonderfully intriguing history lesson about cadavers and anatomists. Body-snatching, guillotined heads, and tying bells around the fingers of the dead were all in a days work for anatomists in the past!
Some think this is a topic best left unsaid but I agree with Roach, we should know all the amazing things people do for us even after they're dead. The scientists also need to be recognized for their incredible work. I strongly recommend reading this book, it's informative and funny while also giving you a healthy dose of respect for both the cadavers and the scientists.

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Jan 29, 2013

funny and engaging. a terrific overview of the life (?) of a corpse. from crash dummy, to being on display as a plastinated piece of art in a museum to helping forensic anthropologists determine rate of decay . we all die, we all end as corpses. sometimes even dead we have a life!

nftaussig Sep 05, 2012

Mary Roach, a journalist, describes various ways cadavers are used or have been used historically. In a series of sketches, Roach visits sites where cadavers are used, describes what she witnesses, and interviews the people who work with cadavers. She discusses the use of cadvers by surgeons who wish to improve their techniques without harming a patient; how cadavers have been procured historically, including a discussion of medical colleges relying on body snatchers; the decay process of cadavers and its use in forensics; the use of cadavers to test safety features in cars; how cadavers are used to determine the cause of airplane accidents; the use of cadavers to determine the impact of bullets and bombs; the use of cadavers by scholars interested in crucifixion; organ donation; the possibility of head transplants; cannibalism; various methods of disposing of dead bodies. In the final chapter, the author muses about how she would like her own body to be disposed.

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nftaussig Sep 05, 2012

nftaussig thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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mvkramer Jul 12, 2016

Other: The only chapter that really disturbed me was the one about Soviet head-transplant experiments on dogs. Yeesh. Trigger warning for animal cruelty and mad science.


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