Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff… Ahhh…. The book by Mary Roach that I picked up like 5 years ago and never finished, yet here I am today. See? Better late than never, right?

Appropriately, I started this corpse compendium right around Halloween, and let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed. Roach (disgustingly appropriate, right?) discusses all the fascinating things that happen to us after we die, whether that’s simply rotting away after a nice funeral, or something a little more extreme, like being a research crash test dummy. For real. (By the way, don’t ever get embalmed… Blegh.)

She discusses science and death in a fun, light-hearted way that is refreshing to read yet factual at the same time. Somehow the woman had the stomach to visit several facilities that deal with death and dying, and never lose her lunch (or even her appetite!) She chronicles her adventures at research centers, funeral homes, crematoriums, hospitals, and at the front door of the doctor responsible for the first successful head transplant. Soooo gruesome, yet so interesting. Her experience enabled her to come in contact with many interesting people–alive and dead–and make many witty remarks along the way.

If you’re like me, I wouldn’t suggest reading this before chowing down on some ribs or anything, but Roach gives the facts without making readers too queasy. (Nothing’s really going to completely sugar-coat descriptions of surgical procedures in the 1700s, or cadavers’ heads used to practice plastic surgery, but you’re the one who wanted to read it in the first place, weirdo!) I’m sick and twisted, yet also somewhat of a baby. I don’t watch scary movies so I have to get my fix for the horrendous somewhere. And here it is.

Now don’t get me wrong, Stiff isn’t some gratuitous blood-bath talking about all the evils perpetrated against humanity, it simply lets you know what is done with corpses now and what was done with them throughout history. And let’s just say we are WAY more adept at dealing with them now…

If you are a science junkie (like me) or just have a morbid curiosity (also like me), Mary Roach’s Stiff is just the ticket. However, if you have an extreme aversion to gruesome death, are interested in flying in an airplane again, or don’t believe in human dissection, I would leave this one on the shelves.

But then again, a book with a toe tag on the cover really should’ve tipped you off, right?

4.5 of 5 stars

About Chelsea McDonald

As an avid reader since I was big enough to hold a book, I continue to enjoy losing myself in the thrall of a good story on a daily basis. Since many of my cohorts do not share the same passion, Cracking Spines will be the perfect outlet to express my adulation or frustration concerning the books that cross my path. In this way, my loyal followers will be able to enjoy the stories that are worthwhile and avoid the duds altogether. I also have a Shelfari account at View all posts by Chelsea McDonald

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