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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  119,314 Ratings  ·  9,869 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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Ericka Clou I think the person might have meant that the author compiled a collection of individual stories she wrote about dead bodies with different angles.…moreI think the person might have meant that the author compiled a collection of individual stories she wrote about dead bodies with different angles. This might be the case, but if so, she seems to have had this book in sight because the stories are cohesive and go through topic by topic in a way that makes sense.(less)

Community Reviews

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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
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
Jul 24, 2016 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
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’
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

“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
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
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
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 as instrumental as hoped in burying the dead via compost, more's the pity because I totally want to compost myself! There is currently, however, a wo
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
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
Will Byrnes
Oct 06, 2016 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
Laugh out loud funny is the way to go if you want to learn more than you realized might be worth knowing about dead bodies. It made me interested in finding out what else Roach has written.

And here are reviews of what we found:
-----Packing for Mars
Karly *The Vampire Ninja, Luminescent Monster & Wendigo Nerd Goddess of Canada (according to The Hulk)*

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
Jay Green
May 31, 2016 Jay Green rated it it was amazing
I'm a compulsive buyer of Mary Roach's books. Part of the reason is research for my own books, of course, part of it is fascination, thanks to her astute choice of subjects, and part of it is simply enjoyment, derived from her clear prose and tales well told. In this case, I read Stiff just after my father passed away, so I was trying to make sense of his loss while trying to come to terms with brute reality of death. It helped a great deal, as I anticipated it would, largely down to Roach's sym ...more
Apr 03, 2016 Lynx rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Mary Roach brings enjoyment to the macabre in this extremely educational book. Everything you wanted (and some things you didn't want to) know about the life of a cadaver. Packed with laugh-out-loud humour and interesting facts on every page, you'll be sad as it reaches the end. So check this book out and learn all about the exciting life your own body could have after death!
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
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
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
May 28, 2008 Jill rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: the morbidly curious
Recommended to Jill by:
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
Jul 24, 2016 Camie rated it it was amazing
This book has won pages of awards since being published in 2003. I've seen it around forever, but chalked it up as " not for me" until it was placed in my hands by my husband who having worked with hip and knee joint replacement surgery and the requisite cadaver research for 30 years still found it pretty darn interesting. And it is actually quite fascinating along with being chock full of information, and just plain entertaining to boot. If you're the pragmatic type like me, and figure that onc ...more
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
Megan Baxter
Oct 07, 2014 Megan Baxter rated it really liked it
I really, really enjoyed this book but for anyone who might want to read it, there are some caveats:

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
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
Oct 02, 2016 Abdulrahman rated it it was amazing
What should happen to my body when I die? That's a question I rarely, if ever, want to contemplate. The idea that one day I'll cease to exist, at least in this world, is both terrifying and difficult to grasp; it can turn a bright sunny day into a gloomy overcast one, and weigh on a light soul like guilt on a remorseful conscience. So I try to avoid thinking about it altogether, but I can't say I always succeed, for it's an idea that's always hovering there, in the background of my jumbled thoug ...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
Mar 28, 2016 Carmen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
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
Jul 11, 2016 Britany rated it liked it
Still is the non-fictional adventure of our author Mary Roach as she investigates and uncovers everything there is to know about cadavers... Yes, you read that right! (CADAVERS!) I learned so much more than I ever thought I needed to know about this topic. How bodies decompose to how to compost with bodies (it's good for your garden!-- WHO knew?) So many cringeworthy moments, and parts that made me gag- I'd encourage not to read this one while you are eating. Overall, a little slow and dry in so ...more
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
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.


I really wish I found science more interesting. If o
Emma Sea
Simply marvellous. Hugely entertaining (made me lol in public repeatedly), plus I learnt stuff. I didn't even mind hearing the stuff I already knew because Roach is so entertaining. It's very difficult to come across as wryly funny at the same time as respecting the personhood of the cadavers she discusses, but Roach manages it effortlessly. I can't say enough good things about this book without sounding repetitive. Loved it.

Mucho thanks to Adriana for connecting me with this writer.
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?
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Mary Roach is the author of the New York Times bestsellers STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; GULP: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, PACKING FOR MARS: The Curious Science of Life in the Void; and BONK: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.

Her most recent book, GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War, is out in June 2016.

Mary has written for National Geographic, Wired, Discover
More about Mary Roach...

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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.” 161 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.” 87 likes
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