Marsena Dufresne's Reviews > Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff by Mary Roach
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Dec 20, 07

bookshelves: absolutely_fabulous

I absolutely could not put this book down. A hilarious yet somehow respectful exploration of what happens to our bodies once we're dead. Roach takes her inquisitive mind to places it wouldn't occur to me to go, way past normal burial and cremation to medical school anatomy labs, human crash test dummies, cannibalism, and the decapitated heads that plastic surgeons use for practice...and she makes me laugh every step of the way.

In the chapter, "How To Know if You're Dead:" Roach's exploration of the history of mankind's attempts to define where the soul actually exists takes her to an OR where surgeons are harvesting organs from a brain dead patient. "Utah [the surgeon who flew in from Utah to get the heart] is a gentle-looking man of perhaps fifty, with graying hair and a thin, tanned face. He has finished changing and a nurse is snapping on his gloves. He looks calm, competent, even a little bored. (This just slays me. The man is about to cut a beating heart out of a human chest.) The heart has been hidden until now behind the pericardium, a thick protective sac which Dr. Posselt now cuts away. There is her heart. I've never seen one beating. I had no idea they moved so much. You put your hand on your heart and you picture something pulsing slightly but basically still, like a hand on a desktop tapping Morse code. This thing is going wild in there. It's a mixing-machine part, a stoat squirming in its burrow, an alien life form that's just won a Pontiac on The Price is Right."

Oh, man. I think I'm going to write Roach and ask her to be my friend.
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