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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Written by Mary Roach

Narrated by Shelly Frasier


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Written by Mary Roach

Narrated by Shelly Frasier

ratings:
4.5/5 (438 ratings)
Length:
8 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Sep 1, 2003
ISBN:
9781400170975
Format:
Audiobook

Editor's Note

Unexpected laugh…

What could be funnier than dead bodies? “Stiff” was declared one of the top 100 funniest books of all time by NPR in 2019. “Mary Roach’s dissection (heh) of humanity’s use of cadavers in science and medicine is enlivened (sorry) by her cheery enthusiasm for the subject and her deft ability to explain, say, the process of decomposition in hilarious, disgusting detail — and utter clarity,” says the writeup on NPR.

Description

An oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem.



For 2,000 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.
Publisher:
Released:
Sep 1, 2003
ISBN:
9781400170975
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Mary Roach is the bestselling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Packing for Mars (978-1-85168-823-4). She has written for the Guardian, Wired, BBC Focus, GQ, and Vogue, among many others.


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Reviews

What people think about Stiff

4.3
438 ratings / 266 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
     I have a handful of audiobooks on hold right now through the Libby app, all of which have a million weeks' wait it seems like. So what do I do? I listen to the morbid audiobooks that are currently available. This one didn't land on a highly recommended nonfiction or audiobook list of mine (it was just so-so for me), but it was still fascinating at times. If you're curious about cadaver use throughout history and into the present day, and you've maybe got nothing else to listen to on audio, give this one a try and see what you think. At the least, you'll come out on the other side knowing a few more random facts about dead bodies that you didn't know before.
  • (4/5)
    I love Mary Roach’s humor and how she makes science interesting to someone like me - with NO brain for the stuff. I’ve also read Gulp and have to say, it’s best if you’re not squeamish when reading her work. She makes it all fascinating though, and I loved finding out what happens when people donate their bodies to science - and what was done with bodies in the past, before bodies were donated on purpose.
  • (3/5)
    I sort of lost the focus of this book about halfway through...I'm not sure what the author is trying to show, and I'm not sure I care. Interesting, yes, kind of gross, yes, but all that meaningful? I don't know.
  • (4/5)
    Gruesome, funny, fascinating, sad. Definitely hard to take yourself too seriously after reading this.
  • (3/5)
    Well, this is about as palatable a book as anyone could make regarding medical research on cadavers. The energy and humor of the opening chapters drew me in immediately, but either the material wore on me or the author was stretching to fill out the book with less interesting material because my enthusiasm started to flag in the second half. It's still a good book over all, and I'm tempted to try something else by her in the future.
  • (4/5)
    This book is fascinating! The section about what happens to bodies in plane crashes and how cadavers are used for safety testing in cars was super interesting. Did you know male and female hearts beat slightly differently and continue to beat according to the sex of their original body even when transplanted into the opposite sex?
  • (5/5)
    I know what you are thinking. A book about dead bodies. Why do I want to read that? Because science, that's why. Great book. I learned a lot. I chuckled. I got a little squeamish. I added a few ways I don't want to die to my list. Read it, love it, buy her next book.
  • (4/5)
    Lots of gory details. Well done.
  • (4/5)
    Morbidly funny, Stiff is an entertaining, educational, and thoughtful look into what the body goes through after death. She discusses early anatomy incidents, human decay, car crash testing, forensics, organ harvesting, what could happen when a body is donated to science, and various other topics involving human cadavers. Mary Roach's dry sense of humor comes through well and she is respectful of her subject matter. Informative and fascinating. Also, Stiff has some of the best footnotes I have ever read.
  • (4/5)
    It started off so strongly - the first half was fascinating. Unfortunately, she moved away from talking about scientific cadaveric work to organ transplants and cannibalism - and I slowly lost interest. What a shame - it started out so intriguing.
  • (5/5)
    Having taken a forensic anthropology course in college, I thought I had a pretty decent grasp of all the things that can happen to the human body after death. Nope. In this fascinating and surprisingly hilarious book, Mary Roach explores every possible means of body disposal, from natural decomposition to plastination, which can preserve a corpse for 10,000 years. She doesn't just tell you about these processes - she describes them in more detail than you could ever want. I guarantee that even the least squeamish readers will be grossed out at some point during this book. I loved it.The historical and cultural aspects are also extremely interesting. Did you know that in Islam, it is forbidden to donate your body to science? That the ancient Chinese, among other cultures, used corpse parts to treat various medical ailments? Stiff is filled with these wonderful tidbits as well as longer ruminations on the many ways different people have thought about death at different points in human history. For me, this, more than anything else, is what made Stiff well worth reading.In order to really tell the truth about death, including all the nitty-gritty, unpleasant details, you have to have a certain amount of irreverence, and I think that's a major part of why this book works so well. Roach approaches everything with a gameness and sardonic wit that is made even funnier by the narrator's dry delivery. In short, Stiff is an entertaining and highly thought provoking listen that will undoubtedly stick with me for a very, very long time.
  • (4/5)
    I bought this book a while ago at a used book sale, thinking it was the type of read I'd want to explore, but would never get around to. I spotted a friend reading it who shrugged and said "yeah" when I asked her if it was any good. Not a rave review, but pushed my curiosity into actually pursuing the text myself.I'm glad I foraged through my piles of to-reads to find it, because it is enjoyable and educational. Some chapter/essays are more attention-grabbing than others, such as Holy Cadaver and Eat Me, which makes the over-all read choppy. But the life of cadavers is full of humor and life-living insights. A worthwhile endeavor for anyone who's curious about what's going on under their skin.
  • (4/5)
    Entertaining and informative, Stiff was a book that kept me engrossed, laughing, shaking my head in disbelief, and sometimes just plain grossed out. I love non-fiction done right!
  • (5/5)
    I've always wanted to read one of Roach's books, and now I have and it was excellent. It is certainly not for the squeamish. She covers a wide range of human cadaver history from the Egyptians to body stealing in the Victorian period, to organ donation. Excellent.
  • (4/5)
    First, Mary Roach has a terrific sense of humor. She takes a challenging subject and finds ways to make you laugh just when you need it. Her humor is irreverent, but never disrespectful. She can laugh at some of the absurdity, yet still appreciate the pain dying can bring.This is well written, well researched, and thorough. My one, very minor complaint is with the organization of the book. I feel as though it starts much more strongly than it finishes. So, for example, she might have considered organizing the chapters differently.I don't think you need a particularly strong stomach to read this book. Only one item actually turned my stomach. But when it did, it *really* did.The book succeeded in making me think about my own death. It also made me think about my mother's death and made it easier to accept certain events. ...I hope this book will make you laugh and then think too.
  • (3/5)
    Stopped reading. Too gross.
  • (4/5)
    Sometimes it seemed to stray quite far from the topic of cadavers (such as cannibalism around the world), but overall it's an enjoyable, educational read.
  • (5/5)
    One of the best books ever - I LOVED reading this book and if you're in to creepy crawly things and death and learning about some of the gruesome death realities, you will love this book. The style is great, she's funny as can be, and tackles a creepy subject with humor. Go read it if you can handle creepy crawlers.
  • (5/5)
    I've heard countless times that Mary Roach is a fantastic nonfiction writer, and now I believe it. Seriously, let me just go make her a shrine, because I'm not a science person at all, and she managed to make science work for me.Each chapter of the book approaches human cadavers in a different context, giving us a look at the potential of our dead bodies (and there's a lot of potential, believe me.) Incredibly well-researched nonfiction delivered in layman's terms. I wish Mary Roach wrote textbooks.Be an organ donor and will your body to science!
  • (4/5)
    Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach is a book that details the unique scientific contributions that the dead can provide. In straight forward, sometimes humorous, but never disrespectful language, the author delivers her information in a witty and reassuring manner. I learned a lot and was only slightly grossed out by the macabre situations and strange experiments that the dead have been subjected to over the centuries. Nothing is sacred as the author gives us chapters on organ transplants, methods of disposal, medical experimentation, forensic scientists, and rumors of cannibalism. Each subject is explained in layman terms and the author goes to great lengths to explain or even, as in the case of human dumplings being sold in China, to dispel. The author interviewed and visited morticians, doctors, scientists, engineers and others whose work involves corpses in order to produce this fascinating and unique book. Although this can be considered a distasteful subject, Mary Roach keeps the books informative and entertaining with her off-beat musings and her obvious interest in the subject.
  • (3/5)
    I did not think I would be able to finish this book at first, because of the grisliness. But I held on and I'm glad I did.
    Very interesting book, but also very morbid. If you are easily made queasy by such things as descriptions of decaying bodies and the like...skip this one.

    I got all of her other books after finishing this one.
  • (4/5)
    An entertaining and quirky read about what can and does happen to your body after death should you decide to leave it to medical science.There are a plethora of weird and wonderful things your body can be used for, not just a lot of students standing round a table looking at you in all your naked glory! It is incredible, you could be used to see how long a body takes to decompose in various situations, what happens to a body during high speed car crashes, what effect insects have on your decomposing self, different ways of disposing of the body after death! And many many more zany and useful experiments that can be done to help advance medical knowledge in all aspects of the body alive or dead!Absolutely fascinating and done with humour and respect. Quite an eye opener, but I have to say I am not considering leaving MY body to medical science, just yet!
  • (3/5)
    Disturbing.
  • (5/5)
    Mary Roach is enviable. Most of us are afraid of death, and it is partially due to not understanding what happens when we reach the Big Sleep. In Stiff, Roach takes us enthusiastically through what happens with our bodies when we die, and the control we have, and do not have, with the disposal of it. Roach takes a difficult subject and makes it entertaining and easier to swallow.
  • (5/5)
    Really fascinating and the author's sense of humor was spot on.
  • (4/5)
    What a fascinating book! Roach writes Stiff with so much humor infused into the science that you forget you are reading a book about dead bodies. Stiff is incredibly informative, and not just about human cadavers. Her topics touch on religion (how different religions view the dead and their remains), crime, accidents, and the medical field to name a few. While some may be wary of the grotesque subject of cadavers, I found it riveting and enlightening. I believe even the squeamish could read this and not cringe (well, not too much anyway).

    (As a side note, reading this in public makes for a great conversation starter.)
  • (5/5)
    For such a gruesome topic, "Stiff" is written with great depth and humor. Every chapter is well researched, and it is amazing how many aspects of life are influenced by research on cadavers. Not sure it will convince more people to give up their dead bodies for science, nor is this a stated purpose, but it does make you think about utility in the great beyond. I also found the research ethics threads very interesting.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed learning about the history (good and bad) of cadavers, even though I sometimes felt that the author was a little too light-hearted and possibly insensitive to some topics. Overall though, she did an incredibly thorough job in exploring all the dimensions of a cadaver's "life" if you will, and definitely gave me some food for thought. I would love to learn more on the subject, and any book that can prompt that must be worth something :)
  • (4/5)
    Fascinating look at what bodies are used for after they die. For some reason reminded me of reading about Madame Tussaud even before the part of reattaching heads after the guillotine.
  • (5/5)
    Who knew death could be so versatile, entertaining and fascinating? Roach does a fantastic job of describing life after death and how cadavers improve our knowledge, our safety and our health. With a great deal of humour, she describes her research, interviews and adventures, putting them in a historical and social context to show how mindsets have evolved. It's a delicate topic that she masters with both verve and respect, ensuring to present professionals' work with care and attentiveness and the lengths to which they go to treat bodies properly. it's insightful and eye-opening: a great read!