Book Review: Stiff– The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers



What happens to our remains after we die?

Mary Roach turns a normally morbid topic into a fascinating and strangely positive experience. Stiff explains in great(and often, quite disgusting) detail how cadavers have been used throughout history while simultaneously eliciting chuckles–even downright guffawing— through Roach’s footnotes and side comments and indeed her whole unique writing style.

The book is divided into independent chapters, each focusing on different aspects, such as the bodies in mortuary schools, those dissected by medical students, “crash test dummy” cadavers, and the corpses at the  Body Farm. One of the funniest chapters involves cadaver heads used to train facial surgeons and the tale of Yvonne, the “one who saws off heads”.

Having once entertained going to mortuary school and beyond, I found this book  thrilling, yet making me thankful I didn’t enter that field. A combination of viewing a full embalming plus reading this book pretty much did the trick, and additionally, I do not wish  to be embalmed. You will learn in great detail what  a “decedent” has done to it on the table to make it appear lifelike and not ghoulish at an open-casket viewing.

I’ve read it many times and I will always recommend it to the curious. Give it a try!