Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

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A "gleaming, humane" (The New York Times Book Review) memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and a first-year medical student

Medical student Christine Montross felt nervous standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags was initially unnerving. But once Montross met her cadaver, she found herself intrigued by the person the woman once was and fascinated by the strange, unsettling beauty of the human form. They called her Eve. The story of Montross and Eve is a tender and surprising examination of the mysteries of the human body, and a remarkable look at our relationship with both the living and the dead.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Christine Montross's encounter with her cadaver "friend" Eve began on what should have been an eerie note. Entering the anatomy lab on her first day of class, nervous newbie Christine spotted her first study corpse prone on a cold stainless steel table. Instead of being repulsed, Montross found herself utterly intrigued and also deeply moved by Eve's ultimate sacrifice of her own body to science. In Body of Work, she recounts with sensitivity and reverence how her relationship with her subject transformed elementary anatomy lessons into an indelible human experience. An unforgettable meditation on mortality.
Rachel Hartigan Shea
Montross was a poet before she was a doctor, and her language in Body of Work, an exceptionally thoughtful memoir about the first semester of medical school, is as precise as her scalpel cuts become by the final exam…We should be grateful, too—especially those of us who squirm away from the physical truths of our existence—for this beautiful book and the glimpse it offers of a place off limits to anyone without Montross's clearsighted courage.
—The Washington Post
New York Times Book Review
Eloquent and persuasive. . . . The author dissects her own emotions as deftly as she does . . . the cadaver, her pen as revelatory as her scalpel.
Washington Post
An exceptionally thoughtful memoir . . . [a] beautiful book.
Entertainment Weekly
Unflinching . . . insightful . . . sparklingly lucid.
Mary Roach
Medical professionals will find much to comfort, but also to challenge, themselves in these pages. The book is of even more value to patients. I will no longer complain so readily about a doctor who seems uncaring. Montross makes us aware of the profound and unavoidable dilemma at the core of doctoring: physicians must place themselves at the midpoint between “excessive emotional involvement with patients and a complete lack of empathy.” Montross describes her struggles to tread this shifting, fragile ground. During a conversation about whether to suspend the treatment of a dying cancer patient, the man’s daughter says to her, “If this were your father, what would you do?”
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Though it never goes for the gross-out effect, this memoir is not for the squeamish. "You begin to learn to heal the living by dismantling the dead," says Montross, and though her recollections encompass all of her medical training, the narrative backbone of the story is her semester-long dissection of a human cadaver, from opening up the ribcage to removing the brain from the skull. Montross was a poet and writing teacher before she decided to become a doctor, and she peppers her account of the dismantling of her cadaver, Eve—so named because she has no belly button—with arresting imagery: to test the heart's semilunar valves ("little half-moons that work passively and without musculature"), she and another student take the organ to a sink and run tap water through it. Performing her own dissection leads Montross to explore the history of studying anatomy through corpses, which brings tantalizing detours to medieval Italian universities and saints' shrines. But she also recounts her earliest encounters with living patients, such as a heart-wrenching consultation with a man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, who can communicate only by blinking. Her thoughtful meditations on balancing clinical detachment and emotional engagement will easily find a spot on the shortlist of great med school literature. (June 25)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
"[Raudman's] tone, like Montross's writing, is often irreverent and dryly funny, without ever being disrespectful." —-AudioFile
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594201257
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/21/2007
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Christine Montross is an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior and the codirector of the Medical Humanities and Bioethis Scholary Concentration at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. She is also a practicing inpatient psychiatrist. She and her partner, the playwright Deborah Salem Smith, live in Rhode Island with their two young children. Her most recent book is Falling Into the Fire: A Pscyhiatrist's Encounters With the Mind in Crisis.
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Table of Contents

Preface: Mystery     1
Bone Box     7
First Cut     15
Breath and Blood     31
Anatomical Precedence     45
Origins of a Corpse     63
In Pursuit of Wonder     93
The Bodies of Strangers     119
Toll     137
The Discomfort of Doctoring     163
An Unsteady Balance     183
Pelvis     211
Dismantled     251
Epilogue: Good-bye     291
Bibliography     293
Acknowledgments     296
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2008

    For any to be med student

    An unbelievably well written account of a student's first year in Medical School. I am going to start med school in the summer and I am so happy I found this book. Must read for anyone even remotely interested in medicine.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2008

    Body of Work is a masterpiece

    Body of Work is a masterpiece representation of art (poetry) meeting science. I found myself unable to put it down and dreaded completing it. Dr. Montross has given the reader a very rare glimpse into the psyche and life of a medical student. She was open, honest,and specific. Body of Work was also very lyrical and read with incredible ease. I really liked how Dr. Montross incorporated Fine Art (her research in Italy), History, and Medicine, which made the book cohesive and readable for anyone, whether an artist or a medical professional or not. Thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to future books by this author. It is highly likely that I will read this one again. Thanks for a great book, Dr. Montross and Congratulations!!!

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    Posted December 4, 2009

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    Posted January 28, 2010

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    Posted January 27, 2010

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