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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

27 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

On A More Serious Note...

My most difficult decision came in 1961 when my husband and I donated our full term, first born, anencephalic baby, for scientific research. The doctors said everything was perfect except it had a profoundly absent brain. They knew very little because it was...
My most difficult decision came in 1961 when my husband and I donated our full term, first born, anencephalic baby, for scientific research. The doctors said everything was perfect except it had a profoundly absent brain. They knew very little because it wasn't a common occurrence, and was even less common to get an opportunity to studying it in depth. They told us that anencephally occurs very early in pregnancy, was caused by nothing we could control, had never happened to the same woman twice, that the baby couldn't perform rudimentary life supporting functions, death was imminent, and last rites were performed in the delivery room. Both a nun and a doctor asked us to consider releasing the body for scientific research. Feeling that if I could help prevent another, even if just one, new mother from feeling this kind of hurt, then our experience wouldn't be in vain. So when the baby expired, I immediately turned it's body over for research and I gave as much as I could to the March of Dimes. I did these things in hopes that another woman would not have to face what I had. I've cried many times because some people either didn't understand or thought my decision implied I didn't love or want my baby with all my heart, but I know I made the right decision. After having read Mary Roach's book I am convinced she has insight regarding the need to help others in a way that I do, one that is still not readily accepted nor talked about nearly enough. I do think the last chapter was a bit weaker than the rest of the book and although I love humor, the last part should have ended on a more serious note.

posted by Anonymous on August 18, 2003

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

Interesting story, poorly written/edited

I could not believe the number of grammatical errors in this book. How did it get past an editor? It was very interesting though and I enjoyed reading it.

posted by 5847694 on September 22, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2011

    Liked it. Surprizingly caught me off guard

    Thought this book was humorious and clever in its subjet choice and unique author viewpoint. Great read.

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  • Posted October 9, 2011

    Who knew dead bodies were so useful?

    The book is packed with "fun" facts but it definitely induces a lack of appetite afterward.

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  • Posted October 6, 2011

    Very thought provoking! Highly recommended!

    My beliefs are that when we die we cease to exist until we are resurrected during the 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ as king of the Messianic Kingdom of God. So at death the body itself has 'outlived' its usefulness to its owner. However, I still feel the body is representative of the person that died and should be treated with deep respect. One of the most generous things a person can do is leave usable organs for those who are in need because their own has stopped working....but, well, don't know if I could tolerate my loved one's body being blown apart in an experiment. Mary Roach has written an informative, frank book to enlighten us on a subject we all wonder about....but may be afraid to ask about!...and does it with respect, personality and honesty. I found it thoroughly interesting, informative.....and even though it made me shiver now and then I would highly recommend it!!!

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  • Posted September 6, 2011


    I truly enjoyed this book, very interesting. I certainly enjoyed the authors humor and outlook of the subject.

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  • Posted July 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fun...a bit gross and disturbing, but fun (not as impossible as it seems!)

    Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was interesting, informative, disturbing, disgusting, and thought-provoking. I liked Mary Roach's "voice" here. Yes, at times the author seemed to lack reverance--but then, so does death itself. Sure, there was penis humor. But hey, they can be humorous (at certain times and situations, at least to those of us not attached to them). Parts of this book were more interesting to me than others--I love watching "The New Detectives" and the like, so the chapter on the body farm and forensic entomology was especially engrossing--but in a book like this, you can pick and choose which chapters to read if you like. (I didn't, I listened to the audio version--and boy, am I glad I don't usually listen to books while I eat; I actually read print copies then, thank goodness. Though on second thought, this could have helped a lot when I was trying to drop a few pounds to better fit into that bridesmaid's dress. Hmmm. Missed opportunity.) I really could have done without the one that talked about grafting animal parts onto other living animals, or at least that section of it. The idea of transplanting organs I'm okay with. The idea of transplanting entire heads--not so much. And those experiments were just--ugh. Anyway, this book is not for the squeamish or those who are looking for a scholarly book. But if you're interested in what one woman found out about how dead bodies have ended up in the past and may end up in the future, give it a try.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2011

    Great read!

    I really enjoyed this read. Having said that, however, I feel I should let you knoe that I am in the medical field. It made the descriptions much easier to handle. I think it is a quirky book with some interesting points. I would not recommend it to those who are faint of heart.

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  • Posted May 6, 2011

    So now you know!

    The answers to more than you ever knew you wanted to know about the 'life' of a stiff. A funny and oddly infomative book. For those with a bit of an offbeat sense of humor. Not for those with easily upset tummys, or at least not right after eating.

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  • Posted February 16, 2011

    Surprisingly Good

    Mary Roach was a guest on NPR's Wait Wait, and being an avid listener, she talked about her books. The subject matter really interested me, so I checked it out. She is funny, and being the subject matter is a little "different", her humor lends a feeling of fresh air. I learned a lot actually about what happens to bodies that are donated. It really was a very interesting read.

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  • Posted December 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    This book is anything but "stiff"

    If you are into science, anatomy, or cadaver science this book is for you. I enjoyed this book because Mary Roach was able to turn a morbid subject into something interesting and even humorous at times. I enjoyed reading about all the different ways human cadavers are used, but a few times I was glad that I have a fairly strong stomach. The book is written in a very respectful and informative manner, but it still makes you giggle and lightens up a very heavy topic. The only issue I had with this book was the cover. I work at a hospital and occasionally I was able to read on break and I always felt bad when someone saw my book. (perhaps a picture of a toe tag isn't the most appropriate for a hospital setting) Other than that I really enjoyed this book. I recommend it for anyone interested in anatomy, medical field, or just looking for a fun and very different kind of read. I think that the subject of cadavers was very well researched and presented in this book, and I was happy that the information was presented in a light but still respectful manner.

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  • Posted October 22, 2010

    Learned Alot

    The thing I liked the most about this book was how much I learned about cadavers. Mary likes to joke quite a bit, I believe as a coping mechanism, when she's around something uncomfortable. I guess she's a lot like myself. She's not even remotely hard to read. Good book.

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  • Posted October 3, 2010

    Fascinating & oddly fun!

    Stiff is about human cadavers and all there different uses after death. Mary Roach talks about everything from using cadavers for crash test dummies, and the science impact tolerance, to using cadavers for compost as opposed to cremation or burial. In the end of the book Mary Roach discusses what she will do with her remains. She has a unique way of tying together her experiences of viewing all the ways human cadavers are being used, and the research itself of these cases. This book was very interesting, it is a hard subject to cover, but Roach researched it very well. She used humor in a way that was respectful to the dead, but still keeps the book funny. The writing style keeps the book entertaining even through the gruesome parts. I enjoyed reading the about the experiences Mary Roach went on, and how she perceived them. She explained it very thoroughly, and did not leave any detail behind. Some parts of the book were a bit slow and some of the chapters seemed irreverent. The chapters when she observed the cadavers being examined, tested, or any other things, were the ones that were best written. The chapters that Mary Roach researched were all right, but you could tell she didn't connect to those subjects as well. Other then that I thought the book was very good, I learned a lot of fascinating facts about human cadavers that I never thought I would. I would recommend it to people that are not squeamish, and are interested in the human body. If you liked Stiff, and are interested in other books about the strange things humans are capable of I would suggest reading Second Glance, by Jodi Picoult.

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  • Posted January 19, 2010

    Informative! Scientific! So compelling it makes you want to donate your Body to Science! Of course after some parts it might not...

    Stiff is a very controversial book upon a very controversial topic, the dead, and their use in science, as well as the means of disposing of them. Mary Roach traveled the World to get the information for this book and has had many an awkward conversation and made many awkward phone calls while traveling and writing the book. She writes with a light hearted feeling, often giving funny comments, and explaining things. If you see an "*" do refer to the bottom of the page because the footnotes are often hilarious and will enlighten you upon her subject. She writes from her point of view, and through her personal experience, not just giving you the information that she has found, but telling the full story of the circumstances in which she found her information, whether it was in a "gross anatomy lab, in an office, abroad in a different country, or walking about in a field of cadavers being researched for forensics labs and the science of decomposition and decay. An extremely interesting and sidesplitting story, Mary Roach did wonderful job at gathering and displaying her information upon cadavers and their curious lives (or rather after lives).

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  • Posted July 12, 2009

    Not for the Weak!

    This book covers the history, present fate and even the future of human bodily remains: whole bodies, parts of bodies and the products of bodies alive and dead. It was all fascinating, but some of it can be rough going. For me the hardest parts to read were the explanations of how we might dispose of the dead other than by standard burial or cremation, which either take up too much space or use too many resources, including money. All of this makes it clear, as simply walking away from a grave doesn't, that we are briefly alive and vital, then literally, refuse. Grim stuff.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An interesting read

    I found this book a pretty light read. It's for anyone who's ever been interested in what happens to the human body when it dies, immediately and over time. It's also a good forensics study, as the author explains how law enforcement is able to conclude the approximate time of death based on the stages of decomposition. I recommend this book to anyone just curious about this topic or interested in entering the field of pathology. It's probably also useful for future morticians.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2009

    Stiff--The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

    Stiff is a historical anthology of the curious lives of human cadavers. Mary Roach takes you on a compelling journey as to what happens to donated bodies as they travel to their unknown destination to aid in research that not only emcompasses the medical field, but also, for example, criminal, environmental, and product safety research.

    I highly recommend this book to students as well as medical professionals for its historical and current uses of the human cadaver. The general reader will find the facts and various uses for cadavers very interesting pertaining to how the use of cadavers affects our daily lives.

    Mary Roach's style of writing is on a personal level that incorporates her reader to join her vicariously as she takes you on a journey to different locations allowing the reader to get a clear visual on the final destination and jobs confronting donated cadavers. She allows the reader to think and question some of the ethical and moral issues that confronts researchers and scholars who incorporate human cadavers into their projects, so that the living may benefit from the research.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2008

    A reviewer

    This book was an interesting, yet humorous piece on life after death. I'm not talking about Heaven or Hell, but about a journey in which a body that donates itself to science. For these cadavers, 'life' only gets more exciting from here. Mary Roach takes us through a world in which little is known, but much is wondered about. She takes you from the criminal tradition of the 1800's to the freedom of present day. Stiff gives an idea of how the respect of the dead has changed througout generations.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2008

    Don't judge a book by its cover.

    Personally, I would never choose to read a book like this if I was just browsing for one, but I¿m glad I had to! Mary Roach makes reading about cadavers used for crash test dummies, cannibalism, and human decay, well, funny. This book is very well put together and the author really knows what she¿s talking about!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2007

    What Will You Do When You're Dead?

    I first heard of this book from a friend studying to be a psychologist. At first, I was slightly shocked that a person would write an entire book about the bodies of people that have been donated to science. In the end, I picked up my own copy, and was astonished at how well this book is written. Mary Roach offers a morbid, yet unexpectedly humorous compilation of some of the uses people have offered their bodies for. From target practice for ammunition development to human head transplants, Roach provides a new twist on life after death. Each chapter of the book features one use of a body. Much information is provided, along with conversations between Roach and professionals. One of the only problems I have with this book is that it can be a bit tedious to read. I often lost interest after two to three chapters. I would definitely recommend this book, for medical and non-medical persons alike, but I would not recommend trying to read the entire book all at once. I would especially recommend this book to people who believe donating a body is immoral, as this book provides many convincing views as to what a body can be good for if donated.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2007

    Stiff: Fascinating, informative... and gross.

    ¿Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers¿ is quite possibly the most descriptive, informative, and definitely the most amusing book on the subject of human cadavers available. Mary Roach covers an enormous variety of topics within the twelve chapters of her book, ranging from the decay of bodies to the traditional consumption of various body parts for medicinal purposes. One of the most intriguing chapters is on tests conducted to prove the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, the believed burial cloth of Jesus Christ. Dr. Pierre Barbet, a French anatomist, actually nailed cadavers and body parts to a cross in order to find whether or not blood related marks on the Shroud of Turin could be legitimate. Clearly, Stiff covers some rather disturbing material, and Mary Roach spares no expense in describing the contents of the book to her full potential. Thankfully, Mary Roach also provides a wonderful sense of humor that allows a reader to wade through material that would freeze most people in a state of nausea. I was tempted many times during the chapter ¿Eat Me¿ to put down the book, clutch a hand to my chest, and force an idea such as mellified man out from my head (this particular subject involves consuming vast quantities of honey and the sale of mellified body parts as medicine). The mysterious and sometimes shocking material you find in Stiff easily becomes embedded into your memory, perhaps offering a chance for exciting small talk. Or off-putting, whichever you decide. Regardless of how well you can stomach the subject of decimation, decay, or human consumption, Stiff is an excellent and revealing book into what may be an undervalued and overlooked topic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2006

    Interesting read, Best Anatomy Humor!

    This book has by far the best humor of any other anatomy related book I have ever read! The way she describes how the the field is and how anatomists deal with their specimens is so true. The humor Mary Roach has is a bit on the morbid side, but you can't help but laugh because you know that you can thought some of the same things your self. I heard about this book from my anatomy teacher in the middle of a feline dissection and I thought to myself that I should check It out, and now I can't stop telling all my friends about it. The human dissection field has always been very controvertial in society. Museums that hold the infamous Bodies Exhibition know about this controversy and Roach goes in depth with how society has reacted to this field over time. This is a must read.

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