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

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  1,424 Ratings  ·  188 Reviews
A hauntingly moving memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and the first-year medical student who cuts her open

Christine Montross was a nervous first-year medical student, standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class, preparing herself for what was to come. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags is shockin
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 21st 2007 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published 2006)
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Thanatopsis: Death, Dying, and Mortality
48th out of 297 books — 174 voters
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Medicine and Literature
219th out of 1,150 books — 1,477 voters

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Community Reviews

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Mikey B.
Feb 22, 2013 Mikey B. rated it it was amazing

A fascinating account of this "acceptable taboo" subject - namely, the medical dissection of the human body by medical students. This one is up close and personal, because the author is one of the students. She takes us through the entire semester - or more precisely the spiritual journey she undergoes. We follow Ms. Montross through her development - both human and medical. She is obviously anguished by what she has to do in the medical lab - and her reactions and exposé give the bo
Jun 17, 2009 Tauna rated it really liked it
I read this book as one of four required readings for my Medical Reading section of HOSA competition this year, and I am so grateful that I did. This is a memoir that takes place during a first year medical student's experiences in her anatomy class dissecting a cadaver. The writing is fluid and easily transitions between the writer's time in the lab and hospital and medical history involving the evolution of dissection. I was amazed and entranced by this book, and found myself palpating my neck ...more
Feb 08, 2008 Jp rated it it was ok
I read this book right before I began anatomy lab because my mom sent it to me. My favorite part is probably the beginning, when she's describing going to medical school for the first time, getting a briefcase full of bones, and meeting eccentric Brown Medical Students. Apart from that, I have to say I couldn't identify with much of what else she wrote. I feel like she tried to make a bigger deal out of dissecting human bodies then is normally the case. To quote, and this is after taking out a h ...more
Jan 17, 2011 Reid rated it it was amazing
I admit to being somewhat reluctant to review this book, as if to do so is to finally let go of the experience of reading it, much like writing the epitaph of a loved one might mean another step in letting go of the fact of a life. This is one of those rare reads that got into my marrow and changed (at least for a time, if not forever) my way of thinking about things; not merely mortality and the relationship of my physical being to that slippery concept of what constitutes a "self", but much de ...more
May 31, 2010 Kristin rated it really liked it
Another book that made me contemplate my decision not to pursue my dreams of attending medical school. This book was very similar to the last book I read about the Human Anatomy Lab, 'First Cut'. In fact, as I read, my mind decided the two books were 2 different perspectives of the same class. It was many books ago that I read 'First Cut', so I didn't remember the precise details of that book, but in the back of my mind, I recall a 'fat man' who was replaced midway through the semester due to de ...more
Blake Charlton
Apr 02, 2010 Blake Charlton rated it really liked it
thoughtful, well researched, written in delicately poetic prose. many times in this book i found myself nodding, remembering my own gross anatomy days. montross perfectly captures the horror and the wonders; however, she tends to overstate the importance of philosophic anatomic study for the acquisition of clinical skill. this accurately represents a first year medical students misconception of anatomies importance. to some extent this perspective is fitting to the narrative, but it is also inap ...more
Oct 09, 2009 Toni rated it liked it
Montross' story of her hands on experience in dissecting a cadaver dubbed Eve to learn anatomy grows monotonous with each dissection tale and learning. What saves the book is interwoven history. Dissections were at one time a public event. I was more fascinated with the historical rendering of the supply of bodies for dissection via grave digging, than I was of reading about the slow dissection of Eve's body. Of course, freshness was an issue in the days lacking “cold storage”, thus the newly de ...more
I am in awe of every single person that embarks on the journey of going through medical school. We are so fortunate in this world that there are people who are willing to apply themselves to obtaining the knowledge and the deeper understanding that is required to be a doctor. This is a fascinating story of one of the many who take that journey and her fellow travelers. There is not only the gathering of factual knowledge, but the growth of the spirit that takes place and certainly makes me real ...more
James Sorensen
Aug 16, 2014 James Sorensen rated it really liked it
Ms. Montross presents an in depth look at human dissection. The book describes her first semester in medical school and the dissection of a female cadaver her group has named Eve. Ms. Montross also presents a history of human dissection. Ms. Montross is an adequate writer but does paint a fascinating picture of what it looks like and feels like to explore the human body. Explores the full range of emotions that effect the new medical student. Can make some readers a little queasy at times but re ...more
Aug 10, 2007 Grumpus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, audiobook
This is based upon the audio download from []

Narrated by: Renée Raudman

Documenting the rite of passage for all medical students in the anatomy lab...dissection of a human cadaver. Throw in a little history of dissection, some medical terminology, a great narrator, and some emotional anecdotes; allow to soak in as needed and you have a recipe for a good read (or listen)!

Oct 15, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing
This hit home for me. A favorite . Not very grotesque at all. More insightful on the journey of a first year of medical school in the anatomy lab that all doctors have endured. A very emotional , and interesting experience for those who have been through it, and for those who have not, the book will give you appreciation for those who have seen death in front of them.
Mar 13, 2015 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A moving and accurate description of the anatomy lab and culture of medicine

I really enjoyed this book. I am a medical student, and I first heard an excerpt of "Body of Work" read aloud at my own school's vigil for the bodies donated to us. I got all tearful in the auditorium and almost immediately went home to buy the book on Amazon. I was one of those who had a fair amount of emotional difficulty during anatomy dissections (and I remember my sister exclaiming "Med students still do that?!?" wh
Katherine Muntean
Nov 22, 2015 Katherine Muntean rated it it was amazing

IN CHRISTINE MONTROSS BODY OF WORK, Christine Montross is a first year medical student at Warren Alpert Medical School. When she first arrived there was a briefcase that had her name on it. She had to bring the bones home. She finds that she was taller that he. She finds that they both have the same sized feet. She learns “that the most alarming moments of anatomy are the bizarre, the unknown. They are the familiar” (Montross 13).

The first day in the anatomy lab she was partnered with four oth

Jul 05, 2012 Allison rated it liked it
Shelves: anthropology
It was a very good, informative read, if not a little heavy on the gory details.... ;)
Dec 27, 2009 Amy rated it it was amazing
"The lessons her body taught me are of critical importance to my knowledge of medicine, but her selfless gesture of donation will be my lasting example of how much it is possible to give to a total stranger in the hopes of healing."

This book was beautiful. When I first saw it on the library shelf, the premise intrigued me - a woman's story of her relationship with her anatomy lab cadaver during her first semester of med school. And she does not mince words when it comes to the work she does on
Dec 21, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a very interesting read. Although for most people the idea of reading about a human anatomy lab may seem somewhat disturbing, I found the book very interesting. As a graduate student in forensic science, doing dissections on corpses and viewing autopsies is something that I am most likely going to have to experience at some point in my training, so it was comforting to me to read about Montross' experience in the lab and know that some apprehension and maybe even fear is normal dur ...more
Bryan Zorko
Dec 28, 2010 Bryan Zorko rated it liked it
Kind of a mixed book for me. The author makes a binary distinction between the reactions of students to the anatomy lab; I definitely did not fall into the same category, and occasionally was annoyed by Montross's insistent language making her reactions seem like the "proper" ones to have. Growing up with a family that openly talked about human dissection at the dinner table (mom's an anatomy teacher) likely already prepared me emotionally for the dissections.
The examination of the history of an
Mar 23, 2011 Sarah rated it really liked it
Finally, I have finished this book! I think it is a wonderful read, outstanding really. I think I started it before my Mom died, and got just barely into it. She (Montross) goes through her first semester of med school and the human anatomy class in which she and her class all dissect cadavers. While it was not very conscious for me, I think I needed to not read about dead human bodies in the context of dissection for a while. I wanted to, and was very interested having studied anatomy and worki ...more
Mar 12, 2013 Jen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medical
For me, this book was perfect and hit a perfect time. Much longer review later., but the writing was fluid and lovely. The themes and musings on our relationships to death hit on the same line as thoughts I have been having lately. I love medical history and medical nonfiction and memoirs, and this was one of the best I have read.

Ok, longer review. This book both cemented my fascination with wanting to go to medical school or some further medical training, and also cemented the fact that I coul
Särah Nour
Apr 04, 2011 Särah Nour rated it it was amazing
Body of Work is one of the best novels I have ever read, and one of my all-time favorite memoirs—as well as my personal bit of evidence that I am not, nor will I ever be, cut out for a career in medicine.

Christine Montross, now a psychiatrist working at Butler Hospital in Rhode Island, wrote this memoir of her trials and tribulations in medical school, and her graphic descriptions of medical practices are written in a beautifully poetic and intimate manner. She was a poetry professor before she
Aug 12, 2008 D'Anne rated it it was ok
Recommended to D'Anne by: Rosemary
Shelves: non-fiction
Montross, I should note, is a poet. She graduated from the University of Michigan MFA program just as I did, albeit years earlier. Afterwards she headed to med school to become a doctor. The combination of these two professions means that Body of Work is a beautifully written book. Montross's prose is quite lovely and she treats her subject matter with respect and awe.

Perhaps it is because I have read several books on death and what happens after one dies, including Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curi
May 28, 2013 Stefanie rated it really liked it
I wanted to read this book because I plan to attend medical school, and because I have already witnessed several autopsies on fresh bodies. While I wasn't allowed to dissect them as a graduate student, I was allowed to dissect fixed brains in my lab, which was an experience most of my fellow grad students didn't get to share. I thought this book was interesting in that it gave the author's perspective on human dissections and her emotions during the process of not only the physical dissection it ...more
Jun 25, 2012 Kelly rated it it was amazing
I'm going to start with a disclaimer. This book is certainly not for everyone, as the subtitle is "Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab". If you get squeamish easily, then scroll up or down for another review. If one of your favorite television shows is "Dr. G., Medical Examiner", then keep reading.

This work of nonfiction grabs you from the very beginning. Christine Montross (now Dr.) is entering her first year as a med student. She knows that her first class will be Gross Anatomy
Dec 24, 2008 Abbi rated it it was amazing
Favorite tidbits:

You begin to learn to heal the living by dismantling the dead.

It will hardly be noticed, I discover, as I walk down the [street]...carrying two-thirds of a human skeleton in my briefcase.

The most alarming moments of anatomy are not the bizarre, the unknown. They are the familiar.

17th century travel diaries & postcards reveal that attending a dissection was a society event & marked a European traveler as on the progressive edge of culture.

In early anatomy-education times,
May 27, 2012 Loren rated it it was amazing
Shelves: morbid-books
Such a lovely book! Christine Montross was a poet before she decided to study medicine. The beauty of the language she chooses and the depth of her curiosity and compassion make this book one that I will return to again. I'm sure I will take more away from it on each reading.

Montross's experiences in the cadaver lab mirror and expand upon mine in such a way that now I am grateful not only to the people who donate their bodies to teach, but to the medical students who must undergo such deep, emot
Feb 24, 2013 Isabel rated it liked it
Unique perspective. Intriguing subject. But lots of unnecessary rambling and lacks direction at times. A few brilliant sentences and thoughts are held loosely together by repetitive fluff. Although this is a narrative, her tone changes from subjectively dramatic to serious diction. The serious diction part is when she is sharing the history and research she did. Although extensive and interesting, I found it hard to believe her at times simply because she went from "this is a book about me", to ...more
Jul 27, 2014 Molly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In graduate school, there was a large part of me that wanted to observe the human anatomy lab for my "Related Topics" requirement. The summer before my final year, I went to Bread Loaf where Marianne Boruch read from her Cadaver, Speak sequence published in The Georgia Review. Seeing The Bodies Exhibit really challenged my own work and triggered the full-length I've begun to send out.

Reading this book really pitched the emotional impact of human lab in such a real way--the narrative perfectly a
Natalie Pond
Jun 15, 2015 Natalie Pond rated it really liked it
I'm going back to school to become a nurse. I just finished Anatomy last semester and when I stumbled across this book on Goodreads, I knew I'd have to read it. The author includes some history of anatomy as well as some of the trips she took to see places of historical and anatomical importance for herself, which was very interesting and the flow was wonderfully done. My favorite parts of the book were the emotional ones, particularly those stories of her grandparents and the patients whose sto ...more
Whitnie I
Jan 12, 2016 Whitnie I rated it liked it
I found this book difficult to get into for the first couple of chapters but as I continued reading I enjoyed the way the author wove the history of anatomical dissection with her own personal experiences. As the writer began to talk about her initial clinical experiences in particular with the ALS patient I was taken back to the first time I watched a patient die of ALS (I'm an ER RN). Just like she said I would rather have any disease than this. For me, the most poignant passage in the book co ...more
Aug 26, 2009 Tara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Montross had at least some formal training in writing before beginning this book, and it shows in her prosaic and memoir-style entries on the dissection of a human cadaver. I appreciated the organization of the book - chapters are primarily organized by body parts/cavities being explored, and mostly open with some historical bric-a-brac about anatomy carnivals in Europe, and the different beliefs and rituals surrounding the dispensation of corpses and how they impact the number of cadavers avail ...more
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Christine Montross is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour at Brown University and a practising inpatient psychiatrist with an MFA in poetry. Her writing has appeared in literary journals and women’s magazines as well as the New York Times. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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