Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

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4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  72,563 ratings  ·  6,993 reviews
An oddly compelling, often hilarious forensic 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. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the aut...more
Paperback, 303 pages
Published May 17th 2004 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2003)
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Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
11th out of 2,568 books — 4,675 voters
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Medicine and Literature
1st out of 905 books — 1,006 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dan Schwent
Mary Roach writes about what happens when you donate your body to science. Hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity but it is a good dose of edutainment.

Way back around the time the earth's crust cooled and life spread across the planet, late 1994 or early 1995, I should think, I visited a chiropractic college with the rest of my Advanced Biology class. This trip was memorable to me for three reasons:
1) It was the first time I experienced an excruciating caffeine withdrawal headache
2) It was th...more
Trevor
If you can’t cope with the idea of death without a hearty dose of euphemism – this probably isn’t going to be the book for you.

When I became an archivist at the City of Melbourne a very dear friend of mine became a technician at the city Morgue. I figured at the time he had watched a couple of episodes too many of Quincy M.E. and that he would find a normal job eventually. It is probably 15 years since I stopped being an archivist – my friend still cuts up dead people for a living.

A few weeks a...more
Tung
In my nonfiction phase during the year, I grabbed this one and after finishing it, regretted its purchase. The book is about medical use of corpses and the human body, present-day and in the past. The subject matter is extremely interesting, and some of the methods, tests, and history behind human body experiments is worth the read. The book makes you want to be an organ donor, or want to donate your body to medical science. The problem is that the author is one of the WORST writers I have ever...more
Kemper
Mary Roach details a lot of uses for human cadavers in this book, but she missed a major one. As Weekend At Bernies taught us, you can always use the corpse of your boss to scam your way into a free weekend at a beach house. That scientific research is all well and good, but there’s nothing in here at all about the best ways to simulate a life like corpse for your own selfish purposes. I learned more from Andrew McCarthy than I did reading this!

Ah, but seriously folks… This is the second book I’...more
Lissa
I bought this book when I first taught my class that has a foresnic anthropology component. I thought I could pick out a chapter of this book to assign to them, and it would be a nice, informative, lay-person account that would be entertaining, yet informational. However, due to time constraints, I never got around to reading the book. In that time, several people have borrowed and returned this book to me, so my copy is a bit tattered and dog-eared, as if I'd read it many times. I can safely sa...more
Athena
Well, I am half way through this and it has turned into a huge disappointment. What started out to be a funny depiction on what happens to donated cadavers, has taken a turn for the horrible. By the 6th or 7th chapter, the author showed what I can only equate to laziness and added commentary on subjects not pertaining to her once appreciated topic. I now find myself skipping over entire pages due to the lack of interest her writing presents and the tangents on which she goes; this I image done f...more
Fiona
I'd never heard about this book before until it came up within a non-book related discussion topic in a group here on GoodReads. Strange how some books just pop out at you. Reading about cadavers - dead bodies, interested my morbid fascination with the dead and death.

She writes sensitively, but humorously about what happens to you when you die. If you are considering donating organs or your whole body to science - like I was before even picking this book up, curious, or a family member wants to...more
Lisa Nelson
Feb 19, 2008 Lisa Nelson rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: anyone without a weak stomach
Recommended to Lisa by: Erin
Shelves: non-fiction
I usually don't laugh out loud when I read books, but this book had serveral passages that had me giggling. Also, I don't get, "Grossed out," very often, but I had to put this book down once while I was reading and eating lunch. This book has so many interesting tidbits on what happens to our bodies after we die. I was amazed and facinated by the history and current research being done on human cadavars. My parents, much to their children's objections decided long ago to be cremated when the tim...more
Jill
May 28, 2008 Jill rated it 1 of 5 stars Recommends it for: the morbidly curious
Recommended to Jill by: Metafilter.com
Stiff, by Mary Roach, is a book about human cadavers and the curious situations they find themselves in. Well, they didn't find themselves in any situation. They are dead bodies. But Mary Roach found them and this book is the result.

While reading this book I paused at halfway and actually asked myself if I wanted to bother finishing it. I have never found myself asking myself this before. I usually stick it out to the bloody, gruesome end. This book, however, just was not interesting. It was not...more
Jim
In spite of the macabre topic, Mary Roach must have had a ball doing her footwork for this book. Not happy to glean her information from published sources, Mary travelled extensively to conduct her research, and had doors opened for her that I doubt get opened very often. Let's face it, when your job requires you to work with the dead the average Joe already thinks you're a ghoul, so it follows that you would be very cautious about allowing someone, a reporter no less, to observe you at your wor...more
Richard
Jan 14, 2009 Richard rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Folks curious about odd stuff, tolerant of goof-ball humor, and not too squeamish.
Shelves: nonfiction
Opening paragraph:
The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much happens, and nothing is expected of you.
If you read this book, you will undoubtedly have many "ick" moments (especially in the chapter about eating the dead, but there's also that footnote about necrophilia on page 43...), but you should have even more laugh-out-loud moment, and maybe...more
Stephanie
I have been thinking of donating my body to science. I think that would be the best way to dispose of it I am gone. I know that I am not my body, not that I know who "I" am, but I am pretty sure we don't hang around worrying about what happens to the sack of meat, water and bones once "we" leave it.

While reading this book I pictured my body going through all the scenarios that are described in this book. Some were disturbing, some were kind of funny. Picturing my body being propped up as a cree...more
Rachel (BAVR)
Because it's December 29th, I think I can confidently name this as one of my favorite reads of the year.

What happens to us when we die? This is one of the grand mysteries of life, right up there with Where the fuck do all the socks go after you put them in the dryer? I tend to think I'll just go to sleep and never wake up. It's the eternal rest we all dread but sort of look forward to, a hands-in-the-air gesture of I give up. Granted, there are many who feel differently, and it is nice to think...more
Lena
I had no idea dead bodies could be so fascinating. In Mary Roach's capable hands, however, the subject of what happens to our physical selves after we die is page-turning reading.

I always thought it basically came down to burial or cremation. But I now know I also have the option of becoming a crash test dummy, a bit of chemically rendered goo, or some hearty memorial compost.

As this book explores everything from organ donation to anatomy labs to cannibalism to the budding "head transplant" mov...more
Mara
I read most of this while eating, which I suppose it not that surprising given I grew up in a family that thought stool samples are perfectly acceptable subjects for dinner conversation. Not to mention the instances of "Don't eat that, you'll get anisakiasis or vibrio parahaemolyticus!" Naturally all bacterias were referred to in their full Latin names. Somehow I manage to eat sushi to this day without worrying, so cadavers? No problem.

Mary Roach makes a good point. Interesting things happen to...more
Laurel
This book is amusing, though after the first few chapters a little boring. I was sufficiently grossed out by the chapter regarding human decomposition, and the bit about the embalming process and how funeral homes prepare the body was particularly interesting to me when I found myself sitting at a wake the evening after reading it. I couldn't stop thinking about how the dearly departed's eyelids were held down by a little disk that pinned into his eyeball so the lids wouldn't pop open.

I'm not a...more
Mindy
Mary Roach didn't strike me as funny or witty, just annoying. She's like the wise ass class clown in the back row, heckling the teacher and distracting everyone from an otherwise fairly decent lecture. Only she's supposed to be the teacher, too. What was her point? To talk about dead bodies or impress herself with her own juvenile jokes?

On a professional note, Roach seems awfully distrustful of librarians. Does she really think the circ clerk at a medical library thinks she's freaky for checkin...more
Michael
When I die, I'm hoping for a viking funeral. Me and my broadsword on a big raft, and I'll be decked out in my regalia, and . . . oh, I suppose David and Emily will fight over who gets to fire a flaming arrow onto it . . . apparently we'll need some kindling, unless my regalia has been doused with gasoline. Yes, lets go with gasoline. I'll explode into a ball of flame as I drift down the Eerie Canal. Since I'm an athiest, I doubt I'll make it into Valhalla--then again, the idea of waiting around...more
Jim
Re-read Aug2012
Group read & it has been a while. Wow, right out of the gate. Roach manages to be respectful yet humorous & insightful all at the same time. The first chapter begins with a training session for plastic surgeons who learn new procedures by working on cadaver heads & she follows up with a brief history on doctors getting corpses to learn on. It's just fantastic.



Original review from when I joined GR, read date end of 2005, early 2006

Not the best thing to read while eatin...more
Jill
Human bodies. Dead human bodies. This subject is not usually the most pleasant of conversation topics in any situation. However, author Mary Roach approaches this normally disturbing topic with enthusiasm and crafts a book that manages to be intriguing, gripping, gruesome, and yet hilarious at the same time. In the Alex Award winning book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, readers will learn how scientists have used human cadavers for over 2,000 years to accomplish a variety breakthroug...more
Muhammed Hebala
Arabic/English Review

الكتاب أقل ما يقال عنه أنه تحفة بكل المقاييس
الموضوع من أغرب و أعجب المواضيع التي لم أقرأ عنها أبدا من قبل
تقرأ عن استخدامات الجثث في علوم التصادم و في علم التحلل و في تجارب زراعة الرأس ؟؟!!
هل سمعت عن زرع الرأس ؟؟ هل سمعت عن نقل دم من الجثث ؟؟
هل سمعت عن كلب برأسين , أحدهما مزروع ؟؟
هل سمعت عن الصلب من أجل التجارب الطبية و العلمية ؟؟
هل سمعت عن استخدام الجثث من أجل التسميد ؟؟
هل سمعت عن تجفيف الجثث من الماء ؟؟
لا تتعجب أبدا فهذا أقل ما ستقرأ عنه في هذا الكتاب
______________________...more
Literary Ames {Against GR Censorship}
Never have my Western morals, pre-conceptions and beliefs been more challenged than when reading Stiff. No one wants to consider their own mortality and make any arrangements for the afterlives of their bodies. Being confronted with the cold hard reality of nature, science and history of death was an uncomfortable, disgusting and enlightening experience. Those of a delicate disposition and strong religious belief will find this a particularly difficult and offensive read. But honestly, they shou...more
Mairi
Not the book I wanted it to be. I heard funny. I heard informative. I heard compelling. I got a book I couldn't wait to put down and I don't think I cracked a grin even once. To my knowledge, it wasn't ever inaccurate but Roach's conversational writing tone was jarring at times and her tangents made it hard to care what she was going to cover next. Of course, I read it shortly after reading Christine Quigley's The Corpse: A History which actually was brilliant so I might've put the bar a little...more
Mer
Apr 19, 2007 Mer rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: fellow gross-out enthusiasts, morbid optimists
Shelves: spookylicious
Simultaneously very respectful of the delicate subject, and rip-roaringly funny.
Hayes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Monica!
Before I read Stiff, had you asked me about cadavers, my response would have been, “They’re dead people. You can dispose of them in a couple ways. They start to smell after a while. Sometimes they rise from the grave and you’re forced to decapitate them with a machete.”

You’d think that’s really all anyone would need to know in order to get through their day-to-day existence.

Now, though. Friends, now I can tell you EVERYTHING about cadavers.

I know what parts of the body morticians have to sew up...more
Linda
Nov 30, 2008 Linda rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Anyone interested in human cadavers
Recommended to Linda by: Kathy
Thinking of donating your body to science? Well, this book might make you want to reconsider. In either direction, mind you. As it seems, being a corpse doesn't necessarily have to be boring -- and this book is all about explaining how and why.

Okay, so I don't know what's more disturbing -- the book itself, or the fact that I'm enjoying it so much. It's surely not the kind of book you want to be reading next to a Catholic family (or any family) on the airport (trust me on this one)(come to think...more
Jeanette (Most of My Favorite Authors Are Dead)
If I die in a combat zone....
Freeze-dry me and send me home?
Believe it or not, being freeze-dried is now an option, but only if you want to serve as human compost. One would hope, of course, that you'd be used to fertilize the flowers and not the vegetable garden.

There are a lot of good things in your life for which you can thank the people who have donated their bodies to research. I had no idea they used cadavers for tests to improve automobile safety. I thought they used those crash test dumm...more
Lisa Vegan
Aug 27, 2007 Lisa Vegan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: anyone who's interested in science, including those who have no idea how interesting it can be
This is the most hilarious book about human cadavers that I’ve ever read. Actually, this might be the only book dedicated to describing what happens to human bodies after death that I’ve ever read. I felt squeamish reading during many, many parts, but it was worth it. It was too fascinating to not keep reading. She’s a good writer and this is a unique book. I plan to be cremated but if I were wealthy, have to say the part on composting was intriguing. Eager to read more from her.
Katrina
Jan 03, 2008 Katrina rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Katrina by: Poppy
I wanted so much to like this book and I did, to an extent. But the author's seemingly inconsistent squeamishness started to annoy me after awhile. (She was perfectly okay with seeing bodies decomposing in the sun but freaked out so much at the description of a method used to keep cadavers' mouths closed for funeral viewings that she stops the mortician student mid-explanation.) Also, it seemed to me that, the longer the book went on, the more the author became impressed with her own jokes, some...more
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Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Salon, GQ, Vogue, and the New York Times Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California.

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More about Mary Roach...
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011

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“The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you. ” 120 likes
“It is astounding to me, and achingly sad, that with eighty thousand people on the waiting list for donated hearts and livers and kidneys, with sixteen a day dying there on that list, that more then half of the people in the position H's family was in will say no, will choose to burn those organs or let them rot. We abide the surgeon's scalpel to save our own lives, out loved ones' lives, but not to save a stranger's life. H has no heart, but heartless is the last thing you'd call her.” 62 likes
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