Pub. Date:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary RoachMary Roach
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"One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year....Gross, educational, and unexpectedly sidesplitting."—Entertainment Weekly

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. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393324822
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/17/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 11,202
Product dimensions: 5.52(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.76(d)
Lexile: 1230L (what's this?)

About the Author

Mary Roach is the author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Her writing has appeared in Outside, Wired, National Geographic, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.


San Francisco, California

Place of Birth:

New Hampshire


B.A., Wesleyan University, 1981

Table of Contents

1.A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Practicing surgery on the dead19
2.Crimes of Anatomy: Body snatching and other sordid tales from the dawn of human dissection37
3.Life After Death: On human decay and what can be done about it61
4.Dead Man Driving: Human crash test dummies and the ghastly, necessary science of impact tolerance87
5.Beyond the Black Box: When the bodies of the passengers must tell the story of a crash113
6.The Cadaver Who Joined the Army: The sticky ethics of bullets and bombs131
7.Holy Cadaver: The crucifixion experiments157
8.How to Know if You're Dead: Beating-heart cadavers, live burial, and the scientific search for the soul167
9.Just a Head: Decapitation, reanimation, and the human head transplant199
10.Eat Me: Medicinal cannibalism and the case of the human dumplings221
11.Out of the Fire, Into the Compost Bin: And other new ways to end up251
12.Remains of the Author: Will she or won't she?281

What People are Saying About This

Susan Orlean

Droll, dark, and quite wise, Stiff makes being dead funny and fascinating and weirdly appealing.

From the Publisher

"Not grisly but inspiring, this work considers the many valuable scientific uses of the body after death." —-Library Journal

Customer Reviews

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Stiff 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 649 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That's what you'll be saying the entire time you're reading the book. Yes, it is a nonfiction and it can get a little bit long at some points; but if you stick with it you'll learn so many cool facts the average joe could've never imagined. It answers all those questions you were asking yourself at the last familial funeral. It cures all the curiosities of death, its history, and its future. It is a book that everyone should read at least once! It was the book that helped me decide I wanted to become a pathologist. It was so fascinating and weird I didn't want to put the book down!!
WY-RALP2 More than 1 year ago
This book was about the author travling to different parts of the world to understand what people do with different parts of a dead body. This book is full of information and fun, but weird, facts. I enjoyed reading this book because I learned more from it then I thought I was going to. One thing that I found interesting was how people's cells can still react to their emotions even when they are not in the body. They did an experiment where they took some siliva from a patient. They then analyze the cells and how they reacted with the emotions from the patient. Later, the patient was 50 miles away from the lab and was watching a horror movie. The cells still reacted to his emotions even from being that far apart. To me that seemed pretty amazing and is one of the reasons why I enjoyed reading this book. Overall, this was a fun and exciting book to read and I recommened it to anyone who's curious about the human body.
angeleyesAS More than 1 year ago
After reading Roach's PACKING FOR MARS, I had to check out other books of hers. I'm so glad I did! She can take a challenging subject and find ways to make you laugh out loud. Her humor is bold, but not disrespectful. She can laugh at the absurdity, yet still appreciate the pain dying brings. She must be a joy to live with!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so good I thought I'd die laughing with it in my hands. As a retired nurse and author myself, I was researching the shelves for new listings by genre. I hadn't come in expecting to buy a book at all, but I'm glad I did. My career never made me want to leave my entire body for research but this book did. I found scads of information, both new and historical, regarding the study of human anatomy, how research and medical techniques are developed, all within the pages of the book, nestled between hilarious but straightforward comments. I'm definitely a better conversationalist after having read it, and I gained a lot of scientific knowledge I never learned in school. I now know the soul can be measured and I think I know just where it resides and why. Mary Roach's writing style makes a dreadful subject much more interesting than you can imagine. As an extra bonus, the fear of death is dispelled.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure how those who don't work in the health care industry will like this book, but if you do (or if you just have a general curiosity of how cadavers have benefited the art of medical science) then you will definately enjoy this book. It was also interesting to learn how cadavers have helped us learn more about automobile safety and forensics. I definately would recommend this book to anyone who just wants to learn a little bit more about what actually happens to your body when you decide to dontate your remains.
Woodrose More than 1 year ago
What a wonderfully fascinating book! The material is informative and Mary Roach adds her own off beat observations. She makes a rather gruesome topic fun.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was very surprised at how much I laughed while reading this book. I loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I make a point of reading all the authors books. She is an unusal lady to say the least but she and I seem to have a neverending curiousity about the human body. I must say that this book did not disappoint. The author explained what exactly happens to your body after death. She covered burials, cremation and even plasticizing. She also covered some of the ways donated cadavers are used. The book is fascinating but definitely not for the squeamish. Some parts I found quite upsetting. Having said that, after reading this book, I feel even more comfortable with being an organ donor. Highly recommend to all people fascinated with anatomy and physiology. I would not recommend it to anyone under 16 or 17. Some of the topics stick with you and could be upsetting to a younger person.
ybdude1936 More than 1 year ago
Dealing with this subject takes an auyhor with a definitelt weird sense of humor as the topic is pretty gruesome.  Ms. Roach handles it with great care, great professionalism and that odd sense of humor needed.  Good book, good read if somewhat off putting when talking about the soul as well as cannibalism.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I adored this book! It will always hold a special place in my heart. When I was introduced to this author, I was the awkward nerd that was on a first name basis with the librarian. She helped me get through middle school and this book was a parting gift on the last day of school.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great book!!!! I really enjoyed the author's subtle sarcasm and the way she put death in perspective. A good read if you like science and history!! I recommend it for sure
PEARLMS More than 1 year ago
Love it...very informative......if you want to know anything that happens after you pass on read this book. It has just enough humor and it is in good taste.
ESV More than 1 year ago
Very Interesting! This book was an easy read and kept my attention throughout for the most part. I skimmed through a few parts that got off topic but overall it was so interesting and fun to read. Some of it was pretty gross, but I still couldn't put it down. I am not in the healthcare field but I work with medical examiners frequently and this is a real eye-opener on what their daily work includes. I think the fact that the author was just a curious writer made it even better, as she asked questions that someone in the field probably wouldn't address. Overall, great read, and I definitely recommend it. I am now passing it on to a friend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book after visiting a Bodies exhibit it really is an illuminating peek into the world of corpses and cadaver research.
kalynm More than 1 year ago
In Stiff, author Mary Roach explores the many uses of human cadavers throughout history--from ancient Egypt to the modern anatomy lab. As a medical student, I frequently get asked about my interaction with cadavers, and there seems to be a curiosity among the general public about what happens to the body after death. This book borders on the edge of “too much information,” if you’re a squeamish reader. However, I was impressed with the author’s descriptions of each scenario. The book was inevitably scientific, but Ms. Roach does an excellent job of simplifying the technicalities for readers who are unfamiliar with the science. At times, I felt the book lagged and was tedious to get through, but there were also many passages that were both interesting and/or lighthearted. Fair warning: this book *is* graphic at times and may not be for all readers. BUT I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in “the curious life of human cadavers.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
pastrana2010 More than 1 year ago
I have to admit the reading of this book was so weird! At the same time you can learn a lot about what can happens to you after you die and the ANY options you have to consider to take "care" of your cadaver if you donate youself to science.... Kudos for the author for writing about the subject! I specially liked the references and stories of past centuries dealing with corpses...
MLR91 More than 1 year ago
Read it! I keep finding myself reciting facts that I have learned in this book in interesting conversation! One of my favorites!
CoffeeSommelier More than 1 year ago
I had three copies of this book - at different times - loaned them out and have never gotten them back as they have been passed along for others to read, marvel at and be amused. This is one of the books I would want to be shipwrecked with - not only for its value while I'm alive but so I could ponder my condition once the insects and animals had their way with my remains and the cadaver dogs found me. Interesting, gruesome and totally a good, good read. (Don't NOT READ the footnotes - they are as compelling as the text)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. It is funny, intrigueing and insightful. Mary Roach is a great writer, she makes it easy to read. I love this book so much that I am reading it for the second time now. I let a friend borrow it and they loved it. If you can handle knowing what happens to your body after your soul is gone then you will have no problem reading this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the technicality w/ which the book was written. I also liked the humor -mostly the comparisions of day-to-day items. However what impressed me the most is Author Roach's approach to the subject. There are points when I'd wrinkle my noise and think...NO WAY! I can't believe she just explained that, but she follows through with the same human reaction that I had. Whether it be surprise or disgust. So I believe she isn't crazy but curious. And I thank her for all the research and information provided in a palatable manner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is not for those with weak stomachs. Don't read it at lunch. But, it is a compelling look at such topics as embalming, the use of dead bodies as crash dummies, the body farm in Tennessee as well as many others. It is just exceptionally well done. Respectful but also extremely funny. Very informative also.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I started crying from laughter (as I read the cover in the store), I knew this was a book I could not do without. Coming from a family of morticians, I have always been fascinated with death/funerals, the processes involved, and the decisions people make with regard to their bodily remains. The author captures the reader's attention immediately - who knew the preservation qualities of honey? The historical content of the book is vast and Ms. Roach adds humor where one least expects to find it. Buy it. Read it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I walked into Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford in the UK earlier this week and rather idly picked this book off the shelf. Several hours later I still hadn't put it back down. Roach is an extraordinarily talented writer and she's also very, very funny. This is one of those books that really does deserve to win the author accolades and a bucket of money. Roach lays out very useful historical groundwork and as the best writers do, makes it relevant to the modern era. It's irresistible and I can't recommend it enough.