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

Stiff by Mary Roach
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's review
Aug 27, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in September, 2008

I'm not really squeamish about the whole death thing, but there were more than a few places in this book that gave my stomach fortitude a run for its money. That being said, it is a fascinating read, and really well done. I thought Roach was present enough as a character in the book to keep it entertaining, without being overbearing. She's very funny, and lends an element of humor to this topic that only occasionally wanders over into what might be considered disrespectful. I guess it all depends on how seriously you take the sanctity of the body after death. For me, it should be respected (as Roach agrees), but also as she says, it's hard to maintain much dignity as a corpse, and a good sense of humor about the whole thing can help a lot.
I love the subtitle of this book: "The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," because it isn't the lives of their owners, but once you're dead, your body does start a life of its own, and it is a curious one, no matter what route you (or your loved ones) choose for it.
In case anyone's wondering, the post-death fate that most appealed to me is the idea of decomposing as naturally as possible (not that I want to put morticians out of business or anything, but embalming seemed a more disturbing end to me than many of the other options). I'd like to be buried in a forest somewhere in a cardboard box. (Hey, if I'm ever a murder victim, I may just get my wish!) But I totally agree with Roach's concluding chapter that what happens to your remains should really be left up to the people who have to live with it. So, my husband and I have already agreed, I get to pick the no-frills funeral for him, and he gets to do whatever he's most comfortable with for me.
Anyway, this is a very entertaining read, and informative on a number of topics, so I very much recommend it.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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Lisa Nelson This book was so facinating. I'm not sure I would recommend it for everyone. It was pretty gross in some parts, but not gross enough for me to stop being so curious!

Danielle When I was little we had this book called "Almanac of the gross, disgusting, and totally repulsive." There was a whole chapter on pretty much the grossest stuff that happens after you die (I remember there was a timeline invovled...not pleasant). Anyway, that was like when I was 9, so I doubt I'll be too sensitive to it now. Not that I want to hang out in a cadaver lab or anything (my sister is in dental school right now, so she has to), but usually the fascination factor outweighs the gross factor for me.
Last year I read a book called Remember Me (you can read my review) also about what happens after we die. More about changing funeral practices and that kind of thing, but I found it really interesting. I kept trying to get my husband to read it so that he'd have the same information I did about choosing his after-death disposal, but he politely declined. I feel the same way about recommending that book because...well, most people don't like thinking about their imminent demise.

Lisa Nelson Where is your sister going to Dental School? My husband is a Dentist. I lived through the long 4 years of Dental School with him. It's a rough road. He had four years of intense work while I read and went to movies by myself. ( :

Danielle She just started at UNLV's dental school. She's single, though, so that probably makes it easier in some ways. Hopefully your husband makes up for it now by going to movies with you any time you want!

message 5: by Annie (new)

Annie I really enjoyed this book. I want to say "loved" but it is a book about cadavars. Oh, alright, I loved this book. So interesting and hilarious (somehow the author pulls this off without being disrespectful). It's perfect that the author's name is Mary Roach, right.

Lisa Nelson No wonder you are a writer! What a great review. After reading this book I would put embalming near the bottom of my list. I'm with you on the no-frills cardboard box. What did you think about the chapters on the weight of a soul and where the soul resides? I thought they were very interesting considering my/our religious views regarding the soul.

Danielle Yeah, I found that very interesting, too. I really had never given it much thought before, but especially with the section on organ donation and when you're really "dead," it did get me thinking about it. I like to think maybe in some cases your spirit can leave before your body is medically dead (like, in a violent, painful death), so I guess it's a continuum of sorts. But, either way I would not feel guilty about donating a loved ones organs because it would mean I technically killed them, or whatever.
It was very good to learn how much my soul weighed, though. I'm going to start deducting that amount when I weigh myself. That should boost my self-esteem some!

Lisa Nelson Sorry I signed my 8 year old daughter up for good reads and now keep posting under her name (Julia.) She DID NOT read this book and does not take off a couple of pounds on the scale for clothes. If anything we are trying to add a few pounds. Sorry for the mix up.

Danielle That's hilarious, Lisa. I was quite confused. I'm glad to have that cleared up! :)

message 10: by Natalie (new)

Natalie I like to write... although I'm not that good at it.:(

message 11: by Natalie (new)

Natalie it's okay

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