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Nonfiction Review: Stiff by Mary Roach

Title: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Author: Mary Roach
Year published: 2004
Category: Adult nonfiction
Pages: 303 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: (my 2023 Google Reading map)USA (CA)

SummaryFor 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 confirmation surgery, cadavers have helped make history in their quiet way. “Delightful―though never disrespectful” (Les Simpson, Time Out New York), Stiff investigates the strange lives of our bodies postmortem and answers the question: What should we do after we die?

Review: I have been meaning to read this book since it came out in the early 2000s. What the heck took me so long?!

Let me say up front that if you are squeamish, you should not read this book. It is graphic in its descriptions of death, the process of decay, what happens to a donated body, etc. I found it all fascinating.

There are chapters on anatomy labs in med school, mortuaries and burials, crash test dummies, plane crash research, farms (where they do experiments on bodies to help crime research), organ donation, and more. Each one is vivid and interesting: there are so many ways that a dead human body can be useful!

At some points there was a bit too much detail for me, but the most part Roach tells a good story (and there were moments where I chuckled out loud) while informing the reader of things they didn't think they needed to know. I am registered as an organ donor. Will I change it to whole body? Maybe.

Challenges for which this counts:
  • Nonfiction: science

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