Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach

I remember seeing this book years ago, wanting to read it, but not being able to afford it/ being too lazy to go to the library to see if it was there.

Fast forward a decade and my oldest brother, Josh, who never really makes any book recommendations (though he did tell me that he thought I would enjoy The Stand), tells me that this book is a must-read. One internet request to the WSU library later, and Stiff is in my English department mailbox.

As I would hope you can guess from the title, this is a book about dead bodies. Not about death itself but about bodies after death. Topics include donating bodies to science, dissection, embalming, different options for get rid of dead bodies, the process of decomposition, preservation, grave robbing, the history of anatomical science, and the contributions of cadavers to medicine, technology, warfare, etc.

Oh, that isn’t what you guessed? You must be a moron.

Roach is a great writer and definitely knows how to handle this topic with respect for the dead but also, perhaps unexpectedly, with a lot of humor. I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

Admittedly, there were some sections that just seemed to drag on forever. I don’t know if it is a reflection on my own weirdness or maybe it says something about human connection to one another, but I was totally down with everything BUT the CONSTANT descriptions of animals being murdered/butchered/tortured for the sake of science. I just can’t stomach it. I can handle these things being done to cadavers: bodies of people who (for the most part) volunteered their bodies for such research, but there is something completely different about cutting off puppies’ heads. Seriously, there is a lot of talk of cutting the heads off of multiple LIVING puppies.

Focus on humans, Roach! If you want to talk about killing dogs, you should have titled the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and the Heartless Murder of Unsuspecting Living Animals.

Despite this, the book is absolutely fascinating. I learned so much and reaffirmed my desires to have a natural burial and introduced me to the taking-it-even-further notion of humans being transformed into compost/ used to fertilize gardens/trees/ whatever other plant makes you happy and sparks you as a good place to “live” for awhile.

Read it, but be prepared to skim when you see reoccurring mention of different animals.

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