STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers / Mary Roach (2003)
Why I chose this book: Sitting in the Denver airport, I realized that my knitting project was not going to last for the entire flight. The cover of this book was what first got my attention as I scanned the nonfiction section in the airport bookstore. The book looked shockingly funny and extremely interesting - what more could one want for a three hour flight?!
Why I finished it: This book is hilarious. Sure, you might need to have a slightly morbid sense of humor, but I truly think that anyone but the most squeamish of people would enjoy this title. Mary Roach travels to some places you’d expect from a book about cadavers (mortuary, anatomy class) and a lot of places you’d never guess would be using dead bodies. My favorite chapter involved Roach visiting a lab where the scientists use cadavers instead of dummies in crash testing. I had no idea that was common practice, but apparently whole bodies and severed appendages have been getting battered by scientists for years in collision testing.
Roach tells the stories of these cadavers and the living people who work with them in an extremely respectful manner; the humor usually stems from her own inner monologue and awkwardness (and a fondness for puns). She begins the book by immediately distinguishing you from the cadaver you will eventually leave behind. What happens to you when you die is not in question here – just what can happen to your physical shell once you bid it adieu. Once that distinction is made, Roach is allowed to freely discuss the bizarre, often disgusting, but always intriguing journeys of human cadavers without offending the people they once were or those who loved them. You’ll discover the variety of uses for cadavers once they have been donated to science, and maybe even decide to try a new environmentally friendly form of ‘burial’ yourself. Human compost anyone?
Overall Rating: 4.5 I would have loved to read more about the different experiments using cadavers. Some of the history chapters, while short, seemed to drag on and felt out of place. They did not really subtract from my enjoyment of the work, but I cannot see giving it a perfect 5 for that reason. Regardless, this title is highly recommended!