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Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

4.8 31
by MD Melinek, T.J. Mitchell

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“Fun…and full of smart science. Fans of CSI—the real kind—will want to read it” (The Washington Post): A young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner, and the hair-raising cases that shaped her as a physician and human being.

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist


“Fun…and full of smart science. Fans of CSI—the real kind—will want to read it” (The Washington Post): A young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner, and the hair-raising cases that shaped her as a physician and human being.

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. While her husband and their toddler held down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation—performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines Flight 587.

An unvarnished portrait of the daily life of medical examiners—complete with grisly anecdotes, chilling crime scenes, and a welcome dose of gallows humor—Working Stiff offers a glimpse into the daily life of one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies—and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on television to reveal the secret story of the real morgue. “Haunting and illuminating...the stories from her average workdays…transfix the reader with their demonstration that medical science can diagnose and console long after the heartbeat stops” (The New York Times).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this engrossing tale of how Melinek became a forensic pathologist, she pulls back the sheet to show readers just what goes on after someone dies. Her caseload varies widely, and to help readers appreciate the job’s mix of art and science, she outlines basic procedures and gives examples of the cunning detective work so often required, regularly sprinkling in bits of trivia. Melinek recognizes that it’s sensational cases like murders that “everybody wants to hear about.” She indulges readers’ curiosity, but not at the expense of her larger story, which focuses on the breadth of her experience rather than a collection of anecdotes. This cumulative experience prepares readers for the book’s most trying passages: Melinek’s experiences working on victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. She respectfully and artfully relays the kaleidoscope of emotions that she and her coworkers endured as they struggled to first comprehend what had happened and then keep up with truckloads of bodies and body parts they were tasked with cataloguing. Though some sections call for a strong stomach, armchair detectives and would-be forensic pathologists will find Melinek’s well-written account to be inspiring and engaging. (Aug.)
Leora Tanenbaum
"Working Stiff is an eye-opening, gripping account of the life of a forensic pathologist working in New York City. Whether dealing with routine autopsies, surviving relatives, or the catastrophe of September 11, Dr. Judy Melinek reveals the dignity of being human in the face of death."
Kathy Reichs
“Far from the magic we see on TV, Working Stiff describes forensic pathology in the real world. The book is a compelling and absorbing read.”
Sandeep Jauhar
"Fascinating case studies and a refreshing irreverence toward death and autopsies make Working Stiff a funny and engrossing read."
Scott Stossel
Working Stiff is the grossest book you'll ever love. But it is also so much more than that: Seamlessly fusing memoir, science journalism, riveting whodunit mysteries, and light humor about a dark topic, Working Stiff is a relentlessly fascinating and informative book from the first page to the last. Judy Melinek—whether she's re-enacting assaults in a courtroom while heavily pregnant, or fighting with lazy homicide detectives, or solving amazing forensic mysteries through the ghastly things she does with her corpses—is an unfailingly charming and even inspiring guide to the world of medical examiners. A remarkable achievement by Mitchell and Melinek.
Jan Garavaglia
Working Stiff is an engrossing and revealing glimpse into the making of a medical examiner with a searing insider's view into working at the New York Medical Examiner's Office during and just after 9/11. The story of how the author dealt with her father's suicide during childhood and later had to deal with suicides as part of her duties is wrenching and compelling."
Todd Harra
"A riveting read, at once compassionate and morbidly fascinating."
Suzanne Nossel
"Both chilling and heart-warming at the same time, Judy Melinek's account explains how empathy and humanity are as important working with the dead as they are with the living. She strikes the balance just right in helping us better understand what we most fear, yet still fear it all the same."

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Meet the Author

Judy Melinek is a forensic pathologist and an associate clinical professor at UCSF Medical Center. She earned her college degree from Harvard and received her medical degree and pathology residency training at UCLA. She has worked and lived in San Francisco with her husband, T.J. Mitchell, and their children since 2004.
T.J. Mitchell graduated with an English degree from Harvard and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad in 2000.

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Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Working Stiff is an excellent book. It takes us into the world of a rookie medical examiner, with vivid stories of the odd and interesting cases that come through her lab. Dr. Judy Melinek details a world filled with autopsies and death scenes. Her stories are remarkable and moving.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I want more! This was a great read with fascinating details about a subject that few people can talk about with ease. It's filled with mysterious and moving stories, all told with humor, grace, and passion. The personal and honest touch the authors bring to this book is exceptional and will make you want to read more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If youre fascinated by the macabre as i am , this is def a great read for you!
WendkosOlds More than 1 year ago
Compelling, honest, and moving, November 6, 2014  By Sally Wendkos Olds (New York, New York)  I loved this book -- and couldn't put it down! Judy Melinek gives a straightforward, honest, and compassionate account of what a medical examiner does and how respectfully this one treats the bodies she examines. Her references to her own father's suicide and to the heartache of the families of people who end their own lives is a powerful argument for never doing this to the people you love. And her detailed account of what happened after 9/11 is the most thorough account I have read -- and as a New Yorker I read many of them.
Sasha-Riley More than 1 year ago
Best book I've read in some time, however, one really has to have an interest in the subject because it is VERY graphic. She describes autopsies in minute detail which might not be everyone's cup of tea. I learned a lot and was especially interested in the part of the book describing her work on the 9/11 victims, however, very sad. It was also interesting to learn how she worked with law enforcement to collect evidence and decide if the death was a crime or not.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of the CSI television shows, so Working Stiff was a natural pick for me. I really enjoyed the writing and details of the author’s rookie year on the job. Four Stars.
efm More than 1 year ago
Great story of real life CSI type investigations of a medical examiner, especially all the tragic 9/11 victims.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a really interesting book and very well written. As much as the topic seems like it could be depressing or even uninteresting, it is exactly the opposite. The authors did an excellent job of telling multiple interwoven stories of the dead that kept my interest from the first page to the last. I put off reading a Sandford book to finish this one, and that's saying something for me... :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If looking for a great book that is not only entertaining but interesting you won't be diappointed.... loved this and learned alot!
JDwax More than 1 year ago
I loved Working Stiff. I truly enjoy nonfiction books the most. I like reading about people’s lives and careers. Working Stiff provides a crazy look inside the world of the early career of a medical examiner. I really like the story and I enjoyed the writing style.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Anonymous 5 months ago
book-babe-311 More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very interesting and insightful about the life/job of a medical examiner. At times it was very emotional to read, especially about the 9/11 aftermath. I don't see how medical examiners do their jobs but am very thankful that they do. To be able to help solve a murder or just bring closure to how a person did pass is in my opinion a gift. Thank you Judy Melinek, M.D. For what you do and for sharing it with others!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Buy it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an excellent choice if you are interested in human biology, forensics, medicine, or even if you're looking to find out more about how autopsies are handled. Dr. Melinek wonderfully describes her path to becoming a forensic pathologist, and the struggles along the way. She covers everything from how autopsies are performed, how rewarding it is to helping the families of the deceased, how she handles her career alongside being a wife and mother, and the brutal honesty about how that career can be heartbreaking at times. This book will definitely leave you wanting to read more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Better than TV CSI shows because the stories are real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank goodness there are people to do this job. Good picture into the workings of the ME office. Her account of the horrific experience of taking care of the victims of 911 made me think about what an increadable job the MEs did in handleing that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book!
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