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


This is one of the most peculiar non-fiction books I have ever read and please don't accept this as any kind of a recommendation. At the the same time, it was compelling, interesting and provoking. What happens to dead bodies? Buried or cremated is the answer that most of us would reply. But what about donated bodies and the multitude of services and functions that they serve? From crash test dummies (cadavers) to forensic dead bodies at the University of Tennessee, from cadavers used to study the effects of different types of gunshot wounds to the vast array of medical uses, dead people are everywhere. The author combines historical research with multiple interviews to delve into the detailed and rich repertoire of human bodies and their use after death. At times the writing takes on a flip and humorous edge that does not really advance the cause of her book. Her jokes are often self-deprecating and I feel that she uses this device in order to take us to places and scenes that would be virtually unsettling and beyond. I wonder about the author and how she chose this particular topic for investigation. The construction of the book is rather at ends and loosely organized, not a straight historical approach, nor really topical (e.g. medical, military, etc.). Each chapter stands quite alone. On the plus side, I learned a vast amount of information and isn't that what we read non-fiction for. The historical aspects of this book are its most interesting, the modern anecdotes are the most shocking. I imagine that we forgive the past for their surmises and conjectures since they didn't have the vast wealth of science that we now possess. Given that, the modern things that we do to corpses is just - unbelievable. If you find fascination with quirky slices of human existence, dive right in.