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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

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4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  104,016 Ratings  ·  8,834 Reviews
Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious 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. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of ou ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published 2004 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2003)
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Kelly B The author herself never worked on any of the cadavers. She only observed the procedures she writes about, and is very descriptive about what she…moreThe author herself never worked on any of the cadavers. She only observed the procedures she writes about, and is very descriptive about what she sees, smells, even thinks as she is watching.(less)
The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
11th out of 3,776 books — 5,592 voters
Stiff by Mary RoachThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver SacksOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken KeseyThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Medicine and Literature
1st out of 1,113 books — 1,390 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
Oct 25, 2008 Trevor rated it really liked it
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
Jan 09, 2008 Tung rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

“Cadavers are our superheroes: They brave fire without flinching, withstand falls from tall buildings and head-on car crashes into walls. You can fire a gun at them or run a speedboat over their legs, and it will not faze them. Their heads can be removed with no deleterious effect. They can be in six places at once.”

If you know me, you already know that I have a different sort of relationship with the dead. You know, the kind where y
...more
Lissa
Sep 26, 2007 Lissa rated it liked it
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
Becky
There was not a single zombie in this whole book!!

Mary Roach writes books about some interesting topics. This is the one that most interested me, though on finishing I realized that I also had "Packing For Mars," which I think will likely get read sooner rather than later, now that I've finally got around to reading one of her books and have really enjoyed her style. She brings a bit of levity and a healthy sense of the absurd to topics that most of us can go a full lifetime avoiding even thinki
...more
Erica
I really ought to have read this sooner. I'm not sure what happened and why it took me so long to get this information into my brain.

This is a book about what happens to dead bodies. It's an older title and some of the information therein has changed (Spoiler alert: there are now six? body farms in the US, I think. And the Swedish lady has not been instrumental in burying the dead via compost, more's the pity because I totally want to compost myself! There is currently, however, a woman in CA wh
...more
Athena
Jul 17, 2007 Athena rated it it was ok
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
Karly *The Vampire Ninja & Luminescent Monster*


R, is for Roach

3.5 Stars

HUM-ANE: adjective: humane; comparative adjective: humaner; superlative adjective: humanest
1. having or showing compassion or benevolence. "regulations ensuring the humane treatment of animals"

synonyms: compassionate, kind, considerate, understanding, sympathetic, tolerant;


How is it that a species with a history ripe with abuse and mistreatment of animals has come to use a word so similar to that species title to describe the very thing history proves us not to be?! A
...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 it was amazing  ·  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
Fiona
May 11, 2009 Fiona rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Fiona by: TNBBC
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
Vanessa
Jan 13, 2015 Vanessa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Stiff is a book that really educated me, in terms of a topic that I was wholly unfamiliar with. Gone are the days when I thought that bodies were either donated to universities, cremated, or buried - there are SO MANY MORE OPTIONS.

This book was both a fascinating and gruesome read. Although I wouldn't say I am the most squeamish of people, I did find myself screwing up my face in disgust at particular sections of this book (*cough*cannabalism*cough*). I wouldn't recommend it for people that are
...more
Brandon
Feb 11, 2015 Brandon rated it really liked it
Ever wonder what happens to your body after you die? For most of us, we’re either buried six feet under in a box or cremated and poured into an urn. That being said, there are a few folks who make the decision to donate their mortal vessel to science. In Stiff, Mary Roach explores the world of cadaver research with a humorous, often conversational tone that’s far removed from the dry, overbearing tomes from your high school biology class.

I had a bad experience with Mary Roach about two years ago
...more
Jill
May 28, 2008 Jill rated it did not like it
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
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
Lisa Nelson
Feb 19, 2008 Lisa Nelson rated it really liked it
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
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
Stephanie
Apr 25, 2011 Stephanie rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
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
Carmen
Apr 28, 2015 Carmen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Carmen by: Library
Wow, this book was very informative. I learned about practicing surgery on the dead. I wonder if people who donate their body to science know they might end up as practice for a face-lift?

Body snatching and other sordid tales from the dawn of human dissection – interesting.

On human decay and what can be done about it – interesting.

Human crash test dummies and the ghastly, necessary science of impact tolerance – very interesting.

When the bodies of the passengers must tell the story of a crash
...more
Rosa, really
Feb 03, 2016 Rosa, really rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic, audio

Man, I really wanted to like this one more, but apparently I only find science-y and science adjacent stuff interesting when it happened at least 80 years ago. Maybe 75. And it's gotta be presented in terms on how said science-y stuff effected societal and cultural and historical...stuff. And thangs.

I dunno. Yeah.


So the stuff like the French Revolution & guillotine was nifty but the more contemporary stuff bored the stuff out of me.

Stuff.

I really wish I found science more interesting. If o
...more
Michael
Feb 17, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2000s, science
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
Sep 25, 2012 Jim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2non-fiction, 1paper
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
Laurel
Nov 08, 2008 Laurel rated it liked it
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
Lena
Nov 27, 2010 Lena rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, medical
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
Jubilation Lee
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
Steve
A humorous look at the life of cadavers. Yes, cadavers. Who knew this was a topic worth writing about?

Mary Roach obviously did her homework for this volume. It's chock full of information about how cadavers are used in many, many fields of research and testing. She's sharp-witted, too, which makes this morbid, potentially stomach-turning topic much more palatable. Each chapter describes a different aspect of how cadavers are used, from plastic surgery practice to research on the Shroud of Turin
...more
Kasia
Jan 15, 2016 Kasia rated it really liked it
Morbid humor supported by extensive research = my kind of read. Now, how do I make Mary Roach my eternal BFF?
Mairi
Dec 13, 2007 Mairi rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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2016 Reading Chal...: A Book a Friend Recommended 4 30 Jun 29, 2015 08:15AM  
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  • Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales
  • Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death
  • The American Way of Death Revisited
  • Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease
  • Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures
  • A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities
  • Teasing Secrets from the Dead: My Investigations at America's Most Infamous Crime Scenes
  • The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers
  • Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
  • Aftermath, Inc.: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home
  • Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born
  • Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects
  • The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance
  • Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die
  • The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug
  • The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery
  • Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist
  • Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus
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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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“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.” 144 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.” 74 likes
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