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

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  1,071 ratings  ·  167 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...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 21st 2007 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published 2006)
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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
Mikey B.

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...more
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
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
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
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
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
James Sorensen
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
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)!

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.
It was a very good, informative read, if not a little heavy on the gory details.... ;)
"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...more
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
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...more
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 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Särah Nour
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...more
Aug 12, 2008 D'Anne rated it 2 of 5 stars
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...more
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
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...more
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,...more
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...more
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
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...more
Great insight into the emotional and practical experience of a first year med student with a focus on the cadaver lab. She is poetic in her descriptions of the human body.

The first half of the book was much better than the last half. She digressed in the last chapter as she went on for several pages about her grandparents. It seemed like a tribute to her grandma that she forcibly tried to tie in to the book, but most of it just didn't relate.
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
For the non-medical person, Body of Work reveals the emotional relationship of a medical student and his/her cadaver - a passage from lay person to doctor; for myself, a physician, BOW transcends the sensationalism of dissection and brings it to a humane level - powerful thoughts and questions that most medical students face repeatedly in their first year and the mental upheaval that follows with concepts that are immensely staggering and disturbing, yet well blended with scientific inquiry, fas...more
I was impressed with the attention to details & organization of this interesting & well-balanced book. The interspersion of poetry, amazing black & white illustrations & history added variety & kept my interest piqued. I love this quote that the author uses: "The body dead is, in a way, our world's greatest secret. We see always flesh in motion, animated, disguised beneath its clothing and uniforms, its signals & armatures, its armor of codes & purposes. When do we lo...more
Beth Dillon
Reading Body of Work brought out the inner anatomy nerd in me. I felt like I was back in pre-nursing courses, back in the thick of anatomy, microbiology and physiology, sitting in wonder at the awesome ability and power of our bodies. I laughed, I cried and I tried desperately to bring up the topics Montross addresses about life and death (and the practice of medicine) in normal dinner conversations (sometimes it even worked). I can definitely see myself reading this book every couple of years,...more
It's certainly an interesting concept for a book--observe the process of first-year anatomy lab at a medical school and watch the fur fly. There are a lot of good details here from Montross on both what the process means in historical terms as well as how it affects those who do it. However, Montross' prose when it comes to her self-observation is too simplistic to carry this book much beyond average. She writes in the tone of an emotional fourteen year-old on an online journal complaining about...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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