Rated Reads

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary Roach

Rated: Mild

It’s always a treat to be entertained while learning something new. And Mary Roach does a bang-up job of entertaining while giving a fascinating view into the afterlives of people’s bodies.

When one thinks of cadavers, inevitably medical schools come to mind – bodies willed to science end up being dissected and studied down to their tiniest parts. And Roach covers that aspect of cadavers’ ultimate destinations right up at the front of the book. She makes some good jokes but also seriously points out that medical schools today are striving to remind their students that the bodies under their knives deserve respect.

So what does come next in a book full of chapters about bodies? What else does happen to the “gloves” of people’s souls? Oh, medical school dissection is truly just the beginning: Roach tells us about organ and tissue donation, safety and other studies using corpses (like crash-test dummies), burial and cremation (and other newer options, like composting human remains), embalming practices, and decomposition and decay, to name a few main topics.

Roach gives us the facts and has really done her research. But she does it with such wit, such style and flair, that it’s sometimes easy to forget that we’re absorbing new information rather than simply being entertained. The book is drop-dead hilarious.

Rated: Mild. Language is minimal: there are only a few instances of mild and moderate language. There are a couple of coarse sexual references. Violence, such as it is, is minimal. Those who are really squeamish might have a problem with the scientific details – the gross-out factor can sometimes be a bit high. I’m not one who could ever make it in the medical community, but I didn’t have a problem reading about the topics in the book. Just read a chapter or part of one and see how it works for you.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

One Response to Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

  1. […] you are a fan of Mary Roach’s fascinating book on what happens to our bodies after death, Stiff, you are likely to appreciate Caitlin Doughty’s book focusing mostly on the aspect of cremation. […]

  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
  • by Mary Roach
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: