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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  200,564 ratings  ·  15,833 reviews
Okay, you're thinking: "This must be some kind of a joke. A humorous book about cadavers?"

Yup — and it works.

Mary Roach takes the age-old question, "What happens to us after we die?" quite literally. And in Stiff, she explores the "lives" of human cadavers from the time of the ancient Egyptians all the way up to current campaigns for human composting. Along the way, sh
Paperback, 303 pages
Published May 17th 2004 by W. W. Norton Company (first published April 17th 2003)
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Becky K I've just started it, but the author says she's a journalist. I'm taking that to mean she did not work on the bodies, but wrote it based on research, …moreI've just started it, but the author says she's a journalist. I'm taking that to mean she did not work on the bodies, but wrote it based on research, observation opportunities, and interviews.(less)

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 ·  200,564 ratings  ·  15,833 reviews

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Sep 23, 2008 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
Miranda Reads
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Fascinating, touching and surprisingly wholesome considering it's about dead bodies
Many people will find this book disrespectful. There is nothing amusing about being dead, they will say.

Ah, but there is.
Mary Roach brings cadavers into a whole new, sometimes painfully bright, light.

We follow her as she attends autopsies and medical discussions.

We learn what happens to bodies as they decompose on the field, under the field and in so, so many places.
The way I see it, being dead is not te
Will Byrnes
Oct 29, 2008 rated it really liked it

Mary Roach - Image from Stanford Medicine - photo by Timothy Archibald

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 greatly disposed to finding out what else Roach has written, before I become a subject for studies like this one. As you can see below, in EXTRA STUFF, I managed to do just that. Roach is now one of my favorite all time authors.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s pe
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
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin
Omg and Grossness! I made the mistake of trying to eat a bit while reading this! Just no!

And then a part where they talk about left over skin being used for wrinkle stuff and something to do with penises. I didn't even look up the word they used. Although, now, if a penis was ever whipped out somewhere, I would have to wonder if that penis had something to do with cadaver skin!

I did have to skip over stuff due to my ewww reflex. But there is a lot of stuff I learned that I had no idea about. T
Jan 09, 2008 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
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First read of 2017 complete! It was a good one - 4.5 stars.

Who knew that a book about what happens to our bodies after we die could be so interesting. This book covers everything to the horrific to the incredibly fascinating. This book may not be for the squeamish, but I think Roach did a great job combining information and humor in a respectful manner to make it more easily accessible to a wider audience.

I recently helped to prepare a funeral plan for my Mother. She is still alive, but it was s
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’
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Plenty interesting.
How would a person wind up somewhere where bodies are studied in their putrefaction ways? Is that even mildly respectful?
I'm not built for that, that's for sure. But it's an interesting read, nonetheless.

It could be read with much more fun on public transport along with books wrapped in fake covers saying all kind of demented/apocryphal stuff such as:
- 'Proctological delights',
- 'Sacrificing virgins' (it's actually real: Sacrificing Virgins)
- '101 penis-
Ahmad Sharabiani
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers details the unique scientific contributions of the deceased. For two thousand years, cadavers – some willingly, some unwittingly – have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. the useful functions that the human body provides to the living world, from medical experiments to various applications in transportation security research, and forensic scientists' research on the
Jay Green
May 30, 2016 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 the brute reality of death. It helped a great deal, as I anticipated it would, largely down to Roach's ...more
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
Kayla Dawn
Jan 27, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
3,5* - this was a pretty interesting and entertaining read. It felt a bit repetitive at times but it made up for that with being quite humorous.
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A while back I told my husband I really wanted to read this book. I went on and on about how it received great reviews and at the time he seemed extremely interested.

Let’s pause right here so I can explain his levels of interest and how to read them:

NOT INTERESTED – Changes subject at end of the convo and/or walks away.

KIND OF INTERESTED – Nods at end of the convo like he might have listened.

INTERESTED – Brief eye contact and a nod or two during the convo.

Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I never guessed I would want to know about what happens to a dead body after it ... dies. But here I am, reading and now reviewing a book on just that.

Was it funny? Sometimes. Was it gross? Sometimes! But was it deeply FASCINATING?

Yeah, I guess it was.

It really wasn't too deep on the science bits, actually, not spending too much time on the actual bugs in your gut partying down on the glut of the you-buffet, but it did have plenty of eyewitness accounts of morgues and the everyday lives of th
Sep 26, 2007 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
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've never been squeamish. From when I was a little girl I wanted to know how things work. And "things" were also living organisms. Not that I killed off animals to cut them up, mind you, but I started reading non-fiction books very early on and love books about anatomy as much as suspenseful novels about Jack the Ripper to this day. Therefore, the cover and title of this book instantly appealed to me and I'm pleased to report that the author had a very good way of blending facts with an amicabl ...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
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 05, 2007 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
Oct 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Loved this one! 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! ...more
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
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 600s, non-fiction
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
Krystin | TheF**kingTwist
Book Blog | Bookstagram

Honestly, I am not a science-brained kind of person. Or history. Or geography. Or math. Or...


With that in mind, the author makes scientific topics, experimentation and the history of anatomy and scientific discovery, easy enough for this dumb-dumb to understand. And even find funny! Roach imbues her writing with a flirtatious tone that kicks the textbook-y vibe right out of all the brainy stuff.

It walked the line between informative, engaging and darkly delightful
Karlyflower *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?!
Oct 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 may
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
One of the best bizarre non fiction books that I have read lately
Nov 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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Mary Roach is a science author who specializes in the bizarre and offbeat; with a body of work ranging from deep-dives on the history of human cadavers to the science of the human anatomy during warfare.

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

Articles featuring this book

Pageturners are by no means limited to the world of fiction. In fact, a great narrative nonfiction book can often read like the most twisty of...
59 likes · 19 comments
“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.” 214 likes
“Life contains these things: leakage and wickage and discharge, pus and snot and slime and gleet. We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.” 107 likes
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