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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Cover

 

Staff Pick

In her remarkable debut, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach explored what happens to the body after death, and in the process brought the corpse to glittering life. In her follow up, she stakes out similar terrain. What happens to the soul after death? And how can you tell? This time her subject is more elusive. Still, though Roach may not arrive at clear answers, she is such a consistently fascinating and entertaining writer, hard facts are decidedly beside the point.
Recommended by Martin John Brown, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers (some willingly, some unwittingly) have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.

In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries; from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

From Our Staff:

I picked up Stiff after hearing Mary Roach read from her book. She really has a light touch when dealing with a subject most of society would find distasteful. She also has a wry sense of humor that manages to leave the dignity of the dead wholly intact. In the first chapter, "A Head Is a Terrible Thing to Waste," she sees the similarity in size between a human head and a stewing chicken; it's something she never would have thought of but for the fact that the surgeons practicing on these heads were using disposable aluminum baking trays to contain them... an interesting observation I will not forget. This book is fun, intriguing, instructional, and oddly sweet. The dead have much to teach us.
Recommended by our staff at Powells.com

Review:

"Fascinating, unexpectedly fresh and funny look at the multiplicity of ways in which cadavers benefit the living....Informative, yes; entertaining, absolutely." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

Review:

"Roach's dry, irreverent wit makes for a delightful — though never disrespectful — read." Les Simpson, Time Out New York

Review:

"[A] book as informative and respectful as it is irreverent and witty....Even Roach's digressions and footnotes are captivating, helping to make the book impossible to put down." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Review:

"A laugh-out-loud funny book....[O]ne of those wonderful books that offers enlightenment in the guise of entertainment." Washington City Paper

Review:

"As weird as the book gets, Roach manages to convey a sense of respect and appreciation for her subjects." Los Angeles Times

Review:

"One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year....Gross, educational, and unexpectedly sidesplitting." Entertainment Weekly

Review:

"Roach displays her metier in tangents about bizarre incendents in pathological history. Death may have the last laugh, but, in the meantime, Roach finds merriment in the macabre." Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

Review:

"Fascinating and oddly fun." San Francisco Chronicle

Review:

"Acutely entertaining, morbidly fascinating." Forbes

Review:

"Our own instinctive discomfort with death provides fodder for Roach's dry sense of humor throughout the book." Ana Marie Cox, The Washington Post

Review:

"Roach exhibits both a keen sense of humor and a sincere respect for the dearly departed." American Scientist

Review:

"Roach's conversational tone and her gallows humor bring her subjects to life....Morbidly entertaining." Alex Abramovich, People Magazine

Review:

"Roach...goes into gruesome detail, but she also succeeds in not making the subject at hand too morbid." Kim Colton, Willamette Week (Portland, OR)

Review:

"As fascinating as it is funny....The research is admirable, the anecdotes carefully chosen, and the prose lively; and they combine to produce a book that everyone in the health care field should have to read, and everyone else will want to." Caleb Carr, author of The Alienist

Review:

"Droll, dark, and quite wise, Stiff makes being dead funny and fascinating and weirdly appealing." Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief

Synopsis:

Bernd Heinrich receives a letter from a severely ill friend asking if he might have a "green burial" at Heinrich's hunting camp, andand#160;the acclaimed biologist/author sets out to explore exactly how the animal world deals with the death-to-life cycle and what we can learn from the process, both ecologically and spiritually.

Synopsis:

From one of the finest naturalist/writers of our time, a fascinating investigation of Natureand#8217;s inspiring death-to-life cycle

When a good friend with a severe illness wrote, asking if he might have his and#8220;green burialand#8221; at Bernd Heinrichand#8217;s hunting camp in Maine, it inspired the acclaimed biologist to investigate a subject that had long fascinated him. How exactly does the animal world deal with the flip side of the life cycle? And what are the lessons, ecological to spiritual, raised by a close look at how the animal world renews itself? Heinrich focuses his wholly original gaze on the fascinating doings of creatures most of us would otherwise turn away fromand#8212;field mouse burials conducted by carrion beetles; the communication strategies of ravens, and#8220;the premier northern undertakersand#8221;; and the and#8220;inadvertent teamworkand#8221; among wolves and large cats, foxes and weasels, bald eagles and nuthatches in cold-weather dispersal of prey. Heinrich reveals, too, how and where humans still play our ancient and important role as scavengers, thereby turningand#8212;not dust to dustand#8212;but life to life.

Synopsis:

“Bernd Heinrich is one of the finest naturalists of our time. Life Everlasting shines with the authenticity and originality that are unique to a life devoted to natural history in the field.”—Edward O. Wilson, author of The Future of Life and The Social Conquest of Earth

How does the animal world deal with death? And what ecological and spiritual lessons can we learn from examining this? Bernd Heinrich has long been fascinated by these questions, and when a good friend with a terminal illness asked if he might have his “green burial” at Heinrich’s hunting camp in Maine, it inspired the acclaimed biologist and author to investigate. Life Everlasting is the fruit of those investigations, illuminating what happens to animals great and small after death.

From beetles to bald eagles, ravens to wolves, Heinrich reveals the fascinating and mostly hidden post-death world that occurs around us constantly, while examining the ancient and important role we too play as scavengers, connecting death to life.

"Despite focusing on death and decay, Life Everlasting is far from morbid; instead, it is life-affirming . . . convincing the reader that physical demise is not an end to life, but an opportunity for renewal."—Nature

“A worldwide tour of the role of death in nature that is consistently fascinating and fun to read.”—Seattle Times

About the Author

Mary Roach's writing has appeared in Salon, Wired, Outside, GQ, Discover, Vogue, and the New York Times Magazine; her column, "My Planet," appears monthly in Reader's Digest. She lives in San Francisco.

Table of Contents

Introduction 9
1 A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Practicing surgery on the dead 19
2 Crimes of Anatomy: Body snatching and other sordid tales from the dawn of human dissection 37
3 Life After Death: On human decay and what can be done about it 61
4 Dead Man Driving: Human crash test dummies and the ghastly, necessary science of impact tolerance 87
5 Beyond the Black Box: When the bodies of the passengers must tell the story of a crash 113
6 The Cadaver Who Joined the Army: The sticky ethics of bullets and bombs 131 7 Holy Cadaver: The crucifixion experiments 157
8 How to Know if You're Dead: Beating-heart cadavers, live burial, and the scientific search for the soul 167
9 Just a Head: Decapitation, reanimation, and the human head transplant 199
10 Eat Me: Medicinal cannibalism and the case of the human dumplings 221
11 Out of the Fire, into the Compost Bin: And other new ways to end up 251
12 Remains of the Author: Will she or won't she? 281
Acknowledgments 293
Bibliography 295

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 23 comments:

Kacey, November 9, 2014 (view all comments by Kacey)
In my opinion, this is Mary Roach's best book. Since death and dead bodies are kind of taboo I had never really given much thought to corpses and what to do with them. I figured you could either be cremated, buried, or donated to science. Little did I really know! In Stiff, Mary Roach respectfully and cleverly introduces readers to a whole new world of the post mortem. I found it fascinating and often quite funny. Definitely recommend!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
Bryna, November 23, 2012 (view all comments by Bryna)
I wholeheartedly suggest Roach's "Stiff" for some fireside reading. While admittedly less romantic than "Bonk," her novel aout the history and science of sex, she is so razor-witted about the business of human remains that she has you in stitches before you realize you're chuckling over a corpse. Edifying, humorous, and definitely thought-provoking, I recommend it!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
drdeb, January 29, 2012 (view all comments by drdeb)
Not for the faint of heart, but a fascinating look at what happens when you donate your body to science. Mary Roach can make any topic a fun read.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 23 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780393324822
Author:
Roach, Mary
Publisher:
W. W. Norton & Company
Author:
Heinrich, Bernd
Subject:
General
Subject:
History
Subject:
Anatomy
Subject:
Forensic Medicine
Subject:
Human experimentation in medicine
Subject:
Human dissection
Subject:
Dead
Subject:
History of Science-General
Subject:
Human Physiology
Subject:
Animals
Copyright:
Edition Number:
Reprint ed.
Edition Description:
Cloth
Publication Date:
May 2004
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
20(ish) drawings
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
8 x 5.31 in 0.44 lb

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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.95 In Stock
Product details 256 pages W. W. Norton & Company - English 9780393324822 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

In her remarkable debut, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach explored what happens to the body after death, and in the process brought the corpse to glittering life. In her follow up, she stakes out similar terrain. What happens to the soul after death? And how can you tell? This time her subject is more elusive. Still, though Roach may not arrive at clear answers, she is such a consistently fascinating and entertaining writer, hard facts are decidedly beside the point.

"Review" by , "Fascinating, unexpectedly fresh and funny look at the multiplicity of ways in which cadavers benefit the living....Informative, yes; entertaining, absolutely."
"Review" by , "Roach's dry, irreverent wit makes for a delightful — though never disrespectful — read."
"Review" by , "[A] book as informative and respectful as it is irreverent and witty....Even Roach's digressions and footnotes are captivating, helping to make the book impossible to put down."
"Review" by , "A laugh-out-loud funny book....[O]ne of those wonderful books that offers enlightenment in the guise of entertainment."
"Review" by , "As weird as the book gets, Roach manages to convey a sense of respect and appreciation for her subjects."
"Review" by , "One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year....Gross, educational, and unexpectedly sidesplitting."
"Review" by , "Roach displays her metier in tangents about bizarre incendents in pathological history. Death may have the last laugh, but, in the meantime, Roach finds merriment in the macabre."
"Review" by , "Fascinating and oddly fun."
"Review" by , "Acutely entertaining, morbidly fascinating."
"Review" by , "Our own instinctive discomfort with death provides fodder for Roach's dry sense of humor throughout the book."
"Review" by , "Roach exhibits both a keen sense of humor and a sincere respect for the dearly departed."
"Review" by , "Roach's conversational tone and her gallows humor bring her subjects to life....Morbidly entertaining."
"Review" by , "Roach...goes into gruesome detail, but she also succeeds in not making the subject at hand too morbid."
"Review" by , "As fascinating as it is funny....The research is admirable, the anecdotes carefully chosen, and the prose lively; and they combine to produce a book that everyone in the health care field should have to read, and everyone else will want to."
"Review" by , "Droll, dark, and quite wise, Stiff makes being dead funny and fascinating and weirdly appealing."
"Synopsis" by , Bernd Heinrich receives a letter from a severely ill friend asking if he might have a "green burial" at Heinrich's hunting camp, andand#160;the acclaimed biologist/author sets out to explore exactly how the animal world deals with the death-to-life cycle and what we can learn from the process, both ecologically and spiritually.
"Synopsis" by ,
From one of the finest naturalist/writers of our time, a fascinating investigation of Natureand#8217;s inspiring death-to-life cycle

When a good friend with a severe illness wrote, asking if he might have his and#8220;green burialand#8221; at Bernd Heinrichand#8217;s hunting camp in Maine, it inspired the acclaimed biologist to investigate a subject that had long fascinated him. How exactly does the animal world deal with the flip side of the life cycle? And what are the lessons, ecological to spiritual, raised by a close look at how the animal world renews itself? Heinrich focuses his wholly original gaze on the fascinating doings of creatures most of us would otherwise turn away fromand#8212;field mouse burials conducted by carrion beetles; the communication strategies of ravens, and#8220;the premier northern undertakersand#8221;; and the and#8220;inadvertent teamworkand#8221; among wolves and large cats, foxes and weasels, bald eagles and nuthatches in cold-weather dispersal of prey. Heinrich reveals, too, how and where humans still play our ancient and important role as scavengers, thereby turningand#8212;not dust to dustand#8212;but life to life.

"Synopsis" by ,
“Bernd Heinrich is one of the finest naturalists of our time. Life Everlasting shines with the authenticity and originality that are unique to a life devoted to natural history in the field.”—Edward O. Wilson, author of The Future of Life and The Social Conquest of Earth

How does the animal world deal with death? And what ecological and spiritual lessons can we learn from examining this? Bernd Heinrich has long been fascinated by these questions, and when a good friend with a terminal illness asked if he might have his “green burial” at Heinrich’s hunting camp in Maine, it inspired the acclaimed biologist and author to investigate. Life Everlasting is the fruit of those investigations, illuminating what happens to animals great and small after death.

From beetles to bald eagles, ravens to wolves, Heinrich reveals the fascinating and mostly hidden post-death world that occurs around us constantly, while examining the ancient and important role we too play as scavengers, connecting death to life.

"Despite focusing on death and decay, Life Everlasting is far from morbid; instead, it is life-affirming . . . convincing the reader that physical demise is not an end to life, but an opportunity for renewal."—Nature

“A worldwide tour of the role of death in nature that is consistently fascinating and fun to read.”—Seattle Times

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