Skip to main content

Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach


Pages: 303
Original date of publication: 2003
My edition: 2003 (Norton)
Why I decided to read: saw the author speak at a conference
How I acquired my copy: Denver airport, October 2012

I saw Mary Roach speak at the annual meeting of the American Medical Writers Association in Sacramento at the beginning of October, where she was presented with an award at a luncheon I attended. Her talk was so humorous and interesting that on my way home I was able to find copies of her books in a (gasp!) real bookstore in the Denver airport (I saw Flaubert lurking behind the counter along with Jane Eyre).

For Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Roach harangued everyone from morticians to doctors to body farm personnel others whose work brings them in proximity to cadavers. In this book we see how cadavers are used for everything from medical student anatomy lessons to crash test dummies (the impact that cars have on cadavers is more realistic than if they were to use crash dummies such as you see on TV) to forensic pathology research. Roach even went out of her way to investigate a rumor she heard about two brothers in China who served the buttocks of human cadavers as “Sichuan-style dumplings” to restaurant customers.

Mary Roach tells these stories with a mixture of fascination and humor, and even irreverence at times. She’s certainly not squeamish, either in the dissection lab or walking through a body farm. She often goes off on to personal tangents about what one thing might remind her of, etc., which adds humor to her narrative. She’s not a scientist by any means, but I really enjoyed this entertaining book. One of the times that you have to do when working with the dead it to condition yourself not to think about it in a morbid sense, which is why Roach uses humor to mask feeling.

I do wish, though, that Roach had talked a little bit more about the legal and ethical issues that lie behind using a cadaver for human subjects research—I’ve never seen it as an issue, but people seem to get awfully worked up about what happens to their loved ones after they’ve died. What about issues such as consent? Although it might have been outside the parameters of the book, it would have been interesting if the author had touched on the subject as little bit more. But other than that, I really enjoyed this book (and it got me some odd stares at the cover of the book as I was reading it in Starbucks one morning).

Comments

Andi said…
This is one of my favorite books. I enjoyed the mixture of fact and humor and found it balanced, well-intentioned, and it never felt disrespectful. Love love love Mary Roach.
fiftyfinally said…
I thoroughly enjoyed this book...but left instruction with all my children..."no embalming under any circumstances" . Everyone should read this book. Everytime (daily unfortunatly) I put on makeup and have to look at my jowels where my cheekbones used to be...or is it my cheekbones where my jowels are now...I am reminded of this book.

Popular posts from this blog

2015 Reading

January
1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

February
1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

March
1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…

2016 Reading

January:
1. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
3. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
4. Liar: A Memoir, by Rob Roberge

February:
1. The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy
2. Girl in the Woods, by Aspen Matis
3. She Left Me the Gun, by Emma Brockes
4. Because of the Lockwoods, by Dorothy Whipple
5. The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch
6. To Show and to Tell, by Philip Lopate

March:
1. Fierce Attachments, by Vivian Gornick
2. Too Brief a Treat, by Truman Capote
3. On the Move: a Life, by Oliver Sacks
4. The Go-Between, by LP Hartley
5. The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr
6. Giving Up the Ghost, by Hilary Mantel
7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
8. The Great American Bus Ride, by Irma Kurtz
9. An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Radfield Jamison
10. A Widow's Story, by Joyce Carol Oates
11. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder
12. The Liar's Club, by Mary Karr
13. An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard
14. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972Originally published: 1944My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press)How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…