The Dog Eared Review of ‘Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers’ by Mary Roach


“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.”

Due to the graphic nature of this book I won’t go into much detail of the contents therefore making this review substantially shorter than others but, as I am perfectly aware that there are those who share in my curiosity, I believe it falls within acceptable parameters being that I am writing for a post-secondary institution. 51f-QUJNhnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

With my slight significant fascination for the macabre and an even greater appreciation for modern science, Stiff immediately became a necessary read when I first noticed it as I was perusing old, ‘read this book before you die’ lists somewhere online. With an exaggerated nod to my somewhat over-fed appetite for grisly knowledge of all kinds, Ms. Roach’s narrative brings to life what happens to those bodies predestined for organ donation or those which have been generously donated to science. With a respectful yet tastefully humorous look at what happens with donated cadavers, the author peels away the layers of ongoing questions and speculation about medical history from the early centuries to modern day science.

To be fair, I expect it could be said that the author’s questions regarding specific organ tissue or attempts at humour throughout the book could be seen as immature or crass but I would have to disagree as Roach’s effectively voices the questions that many of us would like to know but are too intimidated or embarrassed to voice. Questions such as what happens to a person’s genitalia after death or which parts are the more popular ones with anatomy students.

Perhaps it’s already clear that I highly recommend this book but I must follow my resounding yes! with a few caveats for the sake of objectivity.

If you are a body/tissue donor to science (or otherwise) and are curious as to how and for what your body may be used for after death, this may be an informative, if not enjoyable, read for you. That being said, both my parents are donating their bodies to science upon their deaths and I would not want them to read this book as a) I feel it would impact their decision due their religious beliefs and b) upset my mother because of her current predisposition that anatomy students may already be planning on the inappropriate touching of her body. So, if you have a sensitive disposition or lofty ideas of posthumously assisting in the curing of cancer, you may want to just go ahead and choose to buy that book on bedding plants instead.

I would whole heartedly recommend this book if you have even the slightest interest in learning what goes on behind the scenes in several medical areas or if you are a student who is required to read scientific, non-fiction texts about the aftermath of death. If I had to read anything ‘sciency’ I would most definitely want them to be written by Roach. Not only is Stiff informative and well researched, it is also written in a simple enough way that readers like myself, who have only a limited comprehension of science, can still understand it.

Again, in fairness, I must conclude this review on a single cautionary note. As the author occasionally makes use of foods, such as Jell-O, pasta and soupy Indian dishes, in an effort to make in-text descriptions relatable, you may want to refrain from eating certain foods while reading this book but, of course, this depends on the reader.

If you would like to read this book, you can request it through the NEOS system here.



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One Response to “The Dog Eared Review of ‘Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers’ by Mary Roach”

  1. Book Review: Stiff by Mary Roach (5/5) | Taking on a World of Words Says:

    […] Posts: The Dog Eared Review of ‘Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers’ by Mary Roach | bib… Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach | The Sleepless […]

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