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Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,717 ratings  ·  200 reviews
A hauntingly moving memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and the first-year medical student who cuts her open

Christine Montross was a nervous first-year medical student, standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class, preparing herself for what was to come. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags is shockin
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 21st 2007 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published 2006)
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3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,717 ratings  ·  200 reviews

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Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When she was training to become a doctor in Rhode Island, Montross and her anatomy lab classmates were assigned an older female cadaver they named Eve. Eve taught her everything she knows about the human body. Montross is also a published poet, as evident in her lyrical exploration of the attraction and strangeness of working with the remnants of someone who was once alive. She sees the contrasts, the danger, the theatre, the wonder of it all:
“Stacked beside me on my sage green couch: this spina
Mikey B.
Sep 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing

A fascinating account of this "acceptable taboo" subject - namely, the medical dissection of the human body by medical students. This one is up close and personal, because the author is one of the students. She takes us through the entire semester - or more precisely the spiritual journey she undergoes. We follow Ms. Montross through her development - both human and medical. She is obviously anguished by what she has to do in the medical lab - and her reactions and exposé give the bo
Jan 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read this book as one of four required readings for my Medical Reading section of HOSA competition this year, and I am so grateful that I did. This is a memoir that takes place during a first year medical student's experiences in her anatomy class dissecting a cadaver. The writing is fluid and easily transitions between the writer's time in the lab and hospital and medical history involving the evolution of dissection. I was amazed and entranced by this book, and found myself palpating my neck ...more
Muhammed Hebala
Instantly became a favorite.
A great memoir about a very sensitive subject, and from a sensitive person.
As a doctor and a cardiac surgeon this book touched me deeply.
I felt like i have written it myself with all these feelings and thoughts.
In the anatomy lab we dissect cadavers as we should do, but more importantly we dissect our lives, our bodies, our existence.
This memoir is very personal, deeply personal and existential that it touches every reader.
I will read it again and again, as you should
Feb 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
I read this book right before I began anatomy lab because my mom sent it to me. My favorite part is probably the beginning, when she's describing going to medical school for the first time, getting a briefcase full of bones, and meeting eccentric Brown Medical Students. Apart from that, I have to say I couldn't identify with much of what else she wrote. I feel like she tried to make a bigger deal out of dissecting human bodies then is normally the case. To quote, and this is after taking out a h ...more
Tom Quinn
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Extremely eloquent, sobering while at the same time comforting. Anything more I could say would only detract from Montross's gorgeous prose.

5 stars. Montross does the impossible: she puts the indescribable into words and gives a lucid, tender, heartfelt account of the inexpressible. It is a perfectly balanced juxtaposition of body and emotion, of human form and human spirit.
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I admit to being somewhat reluctant to review this book, as if to do so is to finally let go of the experience of reading it, much like writing the epitaph of a loved one might mean another step in letting go of the fact of a life. This is one of those rare reads that got into my marrow and changed (at least for a time, if not forever) my way of thinking about things; not merely mortality and the relationship of my physical being to that slippery concept of what constitutes a "self", but much de ...more
Oct 09, 2009 rated it liked it
Montross' story of her hands on experience in dissecting a cadaver dubbed Eve to learn anatomy grows monotonous with each dissection tale and learning. What saves the book is interwoven history. Dissections were at one time a public event. I was more fascinated with the historical rendering of the supply of bodies for dissection via grave digging, than I was of reading about the slow dissection of Eve's body. Of course, freshness was an issue in the days lacking “cold storage”, thus the newly de ...more
May 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
Another book that made me contemplate my decision not to pursue my dreams of attending medical school. This book was very similar to the last book I read about the Human Anatomy Lab, 'First Cut'. In fact, as I read, my mind decided the two books were 2 different perspectives of the same class. It was many books ago that I read 'First Cut', so I didn't remember the precise details of that book, but in the back of my mind, I recall a 'fat man' who was replaced midway through the semester due to de ...more
Bryan Zorko
Dec 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Kind of a mixed book for me. The author makes a binary distinction between the reactions of students to the anatomy lab; I definitely did not fall into the same category, and occasionally was annoyed by Montross's insistent language making her reactions seem like the "proper" ones to have. Growing up with a family that openly talked about human dissection at the dinner table (mom's an anatomy teacher) likely already prepared me emotionally for the dissections.
The examination of the history of an
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: death, favorites
This book is astoundingly beautiful. Gruesome in some ways, yes, but really beautiful. It captures the awe and mystery of the human body, the unnaturalness of breaking down a human body, and how doing so is vital if one wants to understand how a body works, so that live bodies can one day be brought back to wholeness and health. I was so touched by how Montross describes her relationship with Eve, a body she comes to know intimately while in the course of a human anatomy course in medical school ...more
Blake Charlton
Mar 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
thoughtful, well researched, written in delicately poetic prose. many times in this book i found myself nodding, remembering my own gross anatomy days. montross perfectly captures the horror and the wonders; however, she tends to overstate the importance of philosophic anatomic study for the acquisition of clinical skill. this accurately represents a first year medical students misconception of anatomies importance. to some extent this perspective is fitting to the narrative, but it is also inap ...more
May 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I am in awe of every single person that embarks on the journey of going through medical school. We are so fortunate in this world that there are people who are willing to apply themselves to obtaining the knowledge and the deeper understanding that is required to be a doctor. This is a fascinating story of one of the many who take that journey and her fellow travelers. There is not only the gathering of factual knowledge, but the growth of the spirit that takes place and certainly makes me real ...more
James Sorensen
Aug 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Ms. Montross presents an in depth look at human dissection. The book describes her first semester in medical school and the dissection of a female cadaver her group has named Eve. Ms. Montross also presents a history of human dissection. Ms. Montross is an adequate writer but does paint a fascinating picture of what it looks like and feels like to explore the human body. Explores the full range of emotions that effect the new medical student. Can make some readers a little queasy at times but re ...more
Aug 01, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, audiobook
This is based upon the audio download from []

Narrated by: Renée Raudman

Documenting the rite of passage for all medical students in the anatomy lab...dissection of a human cadaver. Throw in a little history of dissection, some medical terminology, a great narrator, and some emotional anecdotes; allow to soak in as needed and you have a recipe for a good read (or listen)!

Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This hit home for me. A favorite . Not very grotesque at all. More insightful on the journey of a first year of medical school in the anatomy lab that all doctors have endured. A very emotional , and interesting experience for those who have been through it, and for those who have not, the book will give you appreciation for those who have seen death in front of them.
Oct 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting but at times somewhat dry due to all the medical terms, etc. - but I would recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in medicine, anatomy, or the history of same. I like it but it took me a while to get through it - reading a bit at a time.
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Poetic, thoughtful, and, at times, a little bit gross - a view of the rigors of anatomy class combined with meditations on death, love, the history of medicine, what it means to be human, and what it means to become a physician. Really well-done, although not a book to read while eating.
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
First year medical student's "meditations on mortality from the human anatomy lab." The book was very good but I find it very interesting that there was not one mention of God or intelligent design.
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was fabulously written - and throughout my reading of it, I found myself wanting to know more about the lives of the cadavers, much the way the students likely would have during their studies. If death, medicine, or anatomy are not subjects one is interested in, I doubt this book would be chosen at all, but just the same it is a tribute to subjects we humans tend to shy away from.
The details, which some may find extensive and gruesome, were incredibly well handled with a level of resp
Sheri Sherwood
May 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Body of Work is written by a first-year med student, as she (and her classmates) dissect a human body. We hear gritty, jaw-dropping details of cutting and sawing to reveal what is within the body. The author thinks and feels deeply on the subject of what it means to live and die. She reflects on cultures throughout the ages; what they have done with cadavers and bones in the name of religion while making it illegal to study the dead body for the sake of the living. This is a deep and beautiful b ...more
Steve Scott
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
This was SO darned good. Montross is a sensitive writer with beautiful prose.

She takes us through her experiences dissecting the body of an old woman who she and her medical student colleagues name “Eve”. This is the centerpiece for her reflections on the human condition. Grief, fear, pain, love.

I bought this at a used book sale and noticed that I coincidentally ha e another of hers as well. I’m jumping in that one.

I heartily recommend this.
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Brought me back to my A&P days as a nursing student at UVM, where we were privileged to have a human cadaver to learn along with. A difficult and emotional journey, Montross does a wonderful job of letting us into her personal experience as a med student. I especially liked the historical references she provided.
Jun 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Beautiful dissertation on mortality as seen through the eyes of a medical student. Her rumination is far and wide. The process of dissection, while macabre for many, serves a beautiful purpose here. Excellent read on many levels.
Ann (thebookisbetterann)
I was given this book as a gift and just could not get into it. DNF
Scott  Breslove
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books I started reading just because I have it, not knowing what I was getting into, not expecting much. But, akin to The Shack, I was very pleasantly surprised and massively enjoyed this book. It really tells a story, enough so that you almost feel as if you are there, experiencing the same experiences, feeling the same feelings. But at the same time you are putting yourself in the authors shoes, wondering how you would react in the same situations. Obviously I’ll never kno ...more
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medical
For me, this book was perfect and hit a perfect time. Much longer review later., but the writing was fluid and lovely. The themes and musings on our relationships to death hit on the same line as thoughts I have been having lately. I love medical history and medical nonfiction and memoirs, and this was one of the best I have read.

Ok, longer review. This book both cemented my fascination with wanting to go to medical school or some further medical training, and also cemented the fact that I coul
Katherine Muntean
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing

IN CHRISTINE MONTROSS BODY OF WORK, Christine Montross is a first year medical student at Warren Alpert Medical School. When she first arrived there was a briefcase that had her name on it. She had to bring the bones home. She finds that she was taller that he. She finds that they both have the same sized feet. She learns “that the most alarming moments of anatomy are the bizarre, the unknown. They are the familiar” (Montross 13).

The first day in the anatomy lab she was partnered with four oth

Dec 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Favorite tidbits:

You begin to learn to heal the living by dismantling the dead.

It will hardly be noticed, I discover, as I walk down the [street]...carrying two-thirds of a human skeleton in my briefcase.

The most alarming moments of anatomy are not the bizarre, the unknown. They are the familiar.

17th century travel diaries & postcards reveal that attending a dissection was a society event & marked a European traveler as on the progressive edge of culture.

In early anatomy-education times,
Särah Nour
Apr 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Body of Work is one of the best novels I have ever read, and one of my all-time favorite memoirs—as well as my personal bit of evidence that I am not, nor will I ever be, cut out for a career in medicine.

Christine Montross, now a psychiatrist working at Butler Hospital in Rhode Island, wrote this memoir of her trials and tribulations in medical school, and her graphic descriptions of medical practices are written in a beautifully poetic and intimate manner. She was a poetry professor before she
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Christine Montross is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour at Brown University and a practising inpatient psychiatrist with an MFA in poetry. Her writing has appeared in literary journals and women’s magazines as well as the New York Times. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
“Even the most comic moment contains an element of melancholy; even the deepest tragedy harbors a trace of the ironic.” 2 likes
“The midpoint in medicine between excessive emotional involvement with patients and a complete lack of empathy is not a simple one to locate.” 1 likes
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