611: Stiff by Mary Roach

by Gerard


611: Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: Viking, 2003. 292 pp. ISBN 0-670-91217-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 610: Medicine
  • 611: Human anatomy, cytology, and histology

One of the most common question children (and even adults) ask is: what happens to us after we die? While many are looking for more spiritual and existential answer, Mary Roach decided to look at the question from a pure biological and materialistic standpoint. What happens to a human body after the functioning has ceased? In Stiff, she explores all the venues where human cadavers make an appearance. From embalmers to medical schools to mechanical researchers to even biological composters, Roach goes off in search of answers to very real and pressing questions. Is there space for all our dead bodies? What and how can we learn from dead bodies?

This one is easily one my favorite books I’ve read. Roach is inveterate, witty, curious (almost to a fault), engaging, and playful with her subject matter. She knows that there are some out there who may not be able to handle the idea of corpses, body farms, and decomposition, but her approach is that of a wide-eyed student. I think more people need the curiosity she displays. This is her first book, so you can tell she’s working out some stylistic kinks here, but it’s fun to read all the same. If you’ll at all interested in human anatomy or are a fan of CSI-type shows, then this will be a good one for you. A quick but exciting read.