Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers--How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death” as Want to Read:
The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers--How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers--How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death

3.56  ·  Rating Details ·  366 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
Important and provocative, The Undead examines why even with the tools of advanced technology, what we think of as life and death, consciousness and nonconsciousness, is not exactly clear and how this problem has been further complicated by the business of organ harvesting.

Dick Teresi, a science writer with a dark sense of humor, manages to make this story entertaining, in
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2012)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Undead, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Undead

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Aug 28, 2012 Robyn rated it did not like it
The middle of this book contains some great information - a collection that I am not sure has any rival. However, the first 100 pages or so are just bizarre. It appears that the author is resolving some of his personal issues with others within the research and publication of this book.

"I talked to him afterward amid a throng of fawning students and asked if he had really seen the EEG performed on his mother. He said no, but he was sure the test had been done. I asked why, and he said
Mar 14, 2013 Maegan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh, dear. This book is written with a great deal of humor but the author raises some truly terrifying questions about the ethics of "Beating-Heart Cadavers" and a few horrifying questions about exactly when death occurs.
This leads to questions about whether or not the organ donation people are just a wee bit, shall we say, overzealous in their efforts to take from the almost dead. I think the most horrifying question in the entire book is whether or not a "dead" person is truly dead at organ har
Debra Hennessey
Apr 01, 2012 Debra Hennessey rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, ebooks
I thought it was biased and snarky. The subject deserves a better treatment.
Jenny Brown
Jun 19, 2012 Jenny Brown rated it it was amazing
I love books that make us challenge assumptions and think. And does Teresi ever do that in this book. I spend much of my day reading and analyzing research that makes crystal clear the points that Teresi is making here, that doctors are often woefully ignorant about the practice guidelines they are supposed to follow, and that those guidelines are too often set by those who have a financial or philosophical stake in a particular outcome related to the guidelines. So I have no trouble at all beli ...more
Dec 12, 2014 Theresa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Supercilious, convoluted, and contradictory. The topic is a fascinating one, but it took a beating under this guy, who thinks taking an 'opposing minority' stance automatically makes him a better, broader thinker than the neuroscientists he attempts to oppose.

Certainly some interesting points, but on the whole, it was just needlessly snarky. Plus the author felt the need to remind the reader that he is a "science writer" about five times per chapter. Trust me dude, we know you're a science write
Jan 25, 2017 Maddie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Cool topic, but this guy is an asshole.
Rock Angel
Jun 06, 2012 Rock Angel marked it as i-put-down
i love controversy. This book elicited scathing criticism from the NY Times. Most major papers (like papers from LA, Chicago, or the Christian Science Monitor) just ignored it, which makes it a MUST-SEE (!)

2 favorable opinions:

The only paper besides NY Times that acknowledged this book even existed:

KR noted that "the press has abdicated its responsibility for investigative jou
I am very interested in death and dying, both from a psychological standpoint and a physiological one. I thought this would be an interesting book as I work in a hospital and often see patients that come in and out from long term care and I wonder if what were are doing for them is the best that we can do. I thought that was the subject matter we would deal with in the book. About halfway through it became clear that the author was pushing an agenda. He states many times that he is being objecti ...more
Apr 15, 2012 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, mildly informative; unreliable source of true information.

I enjoyed learning about some of the shadier parts of the organ harvesting and death-related industry in the US, as well as discovering just how corrupt and scientifically shaky some of the components are. If you don't know much about organ harvesting, hospices and other death-related industries in the states, this book provides an eye opening overview.

At the same time, the book is quite biased, and much of the science and ma
Elizabeth  Holter
Apr 05, 2012 Elizabeth Holter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Teresi is not, as some people think, trying to roll back progress in transplantation. What he is doing is reporting from the front lines and doing it well. He has not forgotten, as so many reporters have, that his job is to tell the facts. Brain death is now accepted as death, but the subject is not nearly as clear as we would like to believe. And that is one of the reasons that anesthesia is not used during organ "harvesting." After all, if we acknowledged that the surgery might produce some ki ...more
Kate Woods Walker
Mar 17, 2012 Kate Woods Walker rated it really liked it
In a recent discussion, several people expressed shock that I--an avowed bleeding-heart liberal--am not an organ donor. Had I possessed the phalanx of facts presented in this buzzing-with-life piece of science reporting, I could have made my case, and then some.

The Undead, in eight well-packed chapters, examines the current state of medical thinking on just what makes a living body a "person" or a mere skin-covered meat case. You'll find much that surprises, with tangents that apply to more than
Mar 28, 2012 Robynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone should read this book! Dick Teresi makes a complicated subject easy to read and easy to understand.
Elizabeth Tarasevich
In my line of work I read a lot of books, and this is one that I think everyone should read. I don't usually make that sort of blanket recommendation, but in this case Teresi's book is a must for all those who have ever died or plan to do so. Teresi is a journalist, an objective guide who guides his readers through the netherworld of dying, near death and para-death. For most of us that world is housed in a clinical setting: the polish of waxed hospital floors, the murmur of monitors, the naked ...more
May 19, 2012 Danny rated it really liked it
Dick Teresi is going to die. He'll be the first to tell you. But when the time comes, how will the doctors know that he's gone? That's the question at the heart of this book. Teresi dives head-first into the science of determining when a person is officially dead, and he doesn't like what he finds.

Near the beginning he claims, with upraised palms and wide-eyed innocence, that he is "merely a journalist reporting facts." But it quickly becomes apparent that if there is a pot, Teresi will be stirr
Oct 18, 2012 Matt rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Should have stayed a magazine article. Teresi makes a decent point that the human body is very resilient. It is very difficult to tell whether someone is dead. However, I could have done without his condescending tone. I feel he belittled the reader with his poor arguments and he belittled many seemingly respectable theories. He should have cut all the conspiracy theories and the poorly reasoned, poorly argued rants against... I don't know, all intelligent people? Academia? Who knows what Teresi ...more
Jun 05, 2012 Carl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

I thought that I knew what "dead" was, but after reading this book, I am not so sure. The common definitions of "dead" just is robust enough to insure that everyone of us goes to our final reward without fear of a painful organ harvest. We need to evolve an understanding of how to let donors give organs without having to be "declared dead." Treating donors as patients all of the way to the morgue, that using anesthetics for organ removal to insure that no one has any possibility of awareness, se
Dec 16, 2012 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My criteria for five stars is that is has to be very well-written, engaging, informative, and either capture my imagination or change my view on a subject. This book satisfies these criteria, and has me strongly reconsidering whether I want to be an organ donor and what I want in a living will.
Nov 30, 2016 Leah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I get why this book is important, and the information is fascinating and terrifying, but something about it was not satisfying, which, paired with an almost desperate, forced sense of humor towards the material, left me unsettled and nervous (perhaps that was the intent, so in that case, it's excellent). It's a bold look at death, but personally I felt a lot of dread during my time with this book, and the tone, not the information, was the culprit. The information presented, however, is effectiv ...more
Feb 22, 2017 Judy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating topic. I had no idea it isn't as easy as you'd think it is to tell the difference between being alive and being dead. Of course, modern medicine has a lot to do with it. As interesting as this book was it was too repetitious to deserve more stars.
Mar 14, 2017 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
An interesting discourse on the difficulty of death criteria and a great discussion on the scientific aspects of the Near Death Experience.
Oct 06, 2016 Halfeared rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horizon
Entertaining and provoking. Teresi takes us on a journey bolstered with extensive reference to research and interviews, peppered with anecdotes. His yarn is spinned with a deft enough touch that his opinion, even archly or snarkily expressed as it is, does not intrude on the facts presented. Engaging, broad in scope and in reach, this definitely fits the definition of a must-read for a wide range of audiences.
E. Bard
May 31, 2012 E. Bard rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and chilling. Every bit as engrossing as a best selling thriller, the author has done a superb job with his research, life experiences and skill as a journalist. I won't say this is an entirely unbiased account of organ harvesting and life cessation, but it does offer a good deal of information rarely covered or reported in the media. The Undead is terrifying and in that respect the author has done a phenomenal job.

It strikes me that journalists and reporters - including the author
Feb 22, 2015 Katherine rated it it was ok
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I know just enough about neuroscience to be dangerous, but I'm certainly no expert. Nevertheless, I think I know enough to spot inaccuracies, and I spotted a bunch in this book.

Take, for example, pain. Teresi has a lot to say about the pain experienced by supposedly "brain-dead" people, particularly when they are having their organs harvested. But this discussion isn't accompanied by any definition of what pain is, partly because, as the author n
Sarah Jane
I should note that my father, born with a genetic liver disorder, was saved by transplant technology and the donation of two livers and a kidney. Needless to say, I would not be easily persuaded by an anti-transplant book. Still, I think it's important to acknowledge that most medical practices have the potential to harm - no matter how well-intentioned the developers might be. I picked up this book, and will continue to contemplate its contents, because I want to consider the whole process of o ...more
Feb 27, 2013 Ariadna73 rated it really liked it
My comment in Spanish here:
This book contains a lot of lines with good and elegant sense of humor; and that is a blessing considering that the topic is really scary: how the legal organ transplant industry is ruled by greed; and how every year more and more people are legally declared dead with exams that are so simple that can make laugh if it weren't that death is not laughing matter. People that do have possibilities of a full recovery; are rushed to t
Andrea Patrick
Aug 06, 2014 Andrea Patrick rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Most former journalists retain their habit of writing without bias, but this book -- at least, the first half; I gave up on it -- was very one-sided. I was hoping for an interesting look at how the definition of death has changed through history, and a little bit is there, but Teresi is mostly focused on how (according to him), the possibility of organ donation may lead doctors to prematurely declare people dead. The problem I have with this idea is that death cannot be delayed indefinitely -- e ...more
May 17, 2013 Carl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Sobering,disturbing, depressing, anger inducing book that all must read but it wonn't be a pleasureable experience.

in its simpliest form the Medical community is defining death not by scientific discovery, not in the means of saving the most lives but rather to gather the most organs for harvesting. The donors are just MEAT. The organ donor programs are Mcdonalds and they want the most product to make the most money. A way to streamline the process is to declare dead those that are nearly dead
Jan 04, 2013 Paul rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine
Teresi raises some interesting questions. Unfortunately, that is about all he does. I gave it 2 stars--which in Goodreads speak means I thought the book was OK, which is about right. As a medical professional, I feel he has not done the topic justice. He rambles from topic to topic, supporting an unclear thesis with anecdote after anecdote. He often tells us he is just giving us the facts, however, unfortunately his writing has been poorly edited, with several obvious mistakes easily rectified b ...more
Oct 29, 2014 Tracey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book deals with some important questions about death such as when are we actually dead. The author shows that medical science doesn't always have a clear answer to that question.

The book addresses a valid issue about when death actually occurs and when organs can be harvested (or whatever your preferred euphemism is). However, the author fails to maintain an objective view point despite his disclaimer in the last pages of the book that he is merely providing the facts without regard to the
Nicole Nash
Nov 03, 2016 Nicole Nash rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book covers every aspect of death, from the spiritual to the scientific. When I started reading this book, I was of the philosophy that brain death had specific criteria with very little room for grey. After reading, I can safely say that I am not so sure. Teresi does an excellent job of covering the medical criteria for brain death and how that has evolved and continues to change as the medical side of death reveals itself more and more. What's interesting is the intersection of economics ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond
  • Sleep Paralysis: Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection (Studies in Medical Anthropology)
  • Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won't Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care
  • Why Things Break: Understanding the World By the Way It Comes Apart
  • The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal
  • Clean and Decent: The Fascinating History of the Bathroom and WC
  • Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead
  • White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine
  • Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Ever-Ending Earth
  • How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America
  • Blood On the Table: The Greatest Cases of New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
  • Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine
  • The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery
  • No Time to Lose: A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses
  • Pox: Genius, Madness, And The Mysteries Of Syphilis
  • The Country Almanac of Home Remedies: Time-Tested & Almost Forgotten Wisdom for Treating Hundreds of Common Ailments, Aches & Pains Quickly and Naturally
  • Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and The Haunted Men Who Made It
  • Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love
Dick Teresi is the coauthor of The God Particle and the author of Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science, both selected as New York Times Book Review Notable Books. He has been the editor in chief of Science Digest, Longevity, VQ, and Omni, and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic, among other publications.
More about Dick Teresi...

Share This Book

“Once a patient goes brain dead and relatives sign his organ donation consent form, he will get the best medical treatment of his life. A hospital code blue may be a call for doctors to rush to the bedside of a beating heart cadaver who needs his or her heart defibrillated.” 3 likes
“moribund patients, conducting autopsies on them all and EEGs on some.” 0 likes
More quotes…