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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers | [Mary Roach]

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

For two thousand years, cadavers have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Mary Roach unzips the body bag and tells us far more than we thought we wanted to know about what happens to our bodies after we pass away. And yet somehow, she makes you want to know even more. It's like watching something repulsive but fascinating through cracks in the fingers you placed over your eyes so you wouldn't see. The author takes a deliberately humorous, academic tone as she describes these fascinating atrocities, and Shelly Frasier mirrors the author's tone perfectly. That very dry humor pervades the entire book; never cynical or condescending, never adolescent or tasteless, and it makes what could be a ghastly, repellent subject surprisingly upbeat and entertaining. Despite all that, we can't recommend that you listen to this audio book with a bunch of 11- or 12-year-old girls in the car with you, unless you enjoy hearing "Eeeew - gross!" squealed in a high-pitched voice over and over again. To some, that would be a fate worse than...well, death.

Publisher's Summary

An oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem.

For two thousand years, cadavers (some willingly, some unwittingly) have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.

In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

©2003 Mary Roach; (P)2003 Tantor Media, Inc.

What the Critics Say

  • Alex Award Winner, 2004

"Uproariously funny....informative and respectful...irreverent and witty....impossible to put down." (Publishers Weekly)
"Not grisly but inspiring, this work considers the many valuable scientific uses of the body after death." (Library Journal)
"One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year." (Entertainment Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (3500 )
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  •  
    Matthew Wauwatosa, WI, USA 03-15-04
    Matthew Wauwatosa, WI, USA 03-15-04 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    45
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    "Darn funny if you're open to the idea."

    If you believe the subject of cadavers should be treated somberly under all circumstances, you'll want to take a pass on this one. If, on the other hand, you have an irreverent sense of humor and believe that there some sort of humor in almost every slice of life (and death), then you're going to love this book. Informative, well-written, witty, and done in a mostly tasteful way (it is about cadavers after all), Stiff is a fresh book that explores a topic and a world that most of us never glimpse.

    35 of 35 people found this review helpful
  •  
    California Rose Anaheim 06-04-08
    California Rose Anaheim 06-04-08 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    10
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    "facinating"

    When I was a student, in 1984, I took a summer class in which I prepared cadavers for the next semester's anatomy and physiology class. It was one of the best summer's of my life. Those memories will carry me to my grave, so to speak. One of the cadavers that I worked on was a physician (in his former life), one was a woman, and one was a man of no particular distinction. I am now a nurse of some 24 years. My experiences then still reverberate to this day. This book addresses all of the feelings and emotions that I experienced at that time. It is an amazing, humorous, light-hearted, yet serious work, that captured the essence of what it means to be a cadaver. No small feat. Bravo, Mary Roach. Well done.

    19 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joel Toronto, ON, Canada 05-28-05
    Joel Toronto, ON, Canada 05-28-05
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wonderful and En'gross'ing"

    I wouldn't have thought it possible to treat this sometimes unpleasant topic with equal parts humour and respect. Mary Roach succeeds admirably in both aspects. I listened to this book almost straight through, with my responses ranging from cringing to laughing out loud.
    Shelly Frasier is an excellent casting choice for this book as her voice has a sultry tone to it. It is not clinical at all.

    Highly recommended if you're not squeamish.

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Julie Niles, IL, USA 04-20-04
    Julie Niles, IL, USA 04-20-04 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    19
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    "This is a light, wonderful book."

    The author is incredibly witty and clever. She writes like an old friend sharing a funny store with you in a coffee shop. I've bought it for 2 friends already, and the feedback from them has been just as positive as my experience with it.

    11 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shannon Chicago, IL, United States 04-23-08
    Shannon Chicago, IL, United States 04-23-08 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it"

    Although this book verges on the macabre at some points, with extremely graphic descriptions of, say, bodies rotting in an empty lot, I found it fascinating. I liked the many uses for cadavers, the descriptions of the science of various specialities, and the history of anatomical and cadaver studies. The author has a quirky sense of humor, and many of her quips are things I would have thought myself. I also liked the narrator's voice, which was pleasant and not too serious. Unfortunately, neither the narrator nor the producer ensured that the narrator pronounced all the words correctly. Almost every chapter had at least one mispronunciation that jarred me. Among them "Oriana Fal-ah-see" (Oriana Fallaci - which I admit is not a common name), "Rooters" (Reuters), and "apokethary" (apothecary - which she pronounces correctly a few lines later.) This book has by far the largest number of mispronunciations of the seventy or so I've listened to. It is nonetheless an interesting, informative and strangely enjoyable listen.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nina Carduner 10-04-04 Listener Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "corpses turned fantastic read"

    Gosh! Who knew corpses could be so fun and fascinating?! Mary Roach has gone to the end and back on topics you could not even imagine that deal with the dead. In one sentence, she writes on how the dead have improved the lives of the living. Seriously, we learn how greatful we should be that Aunt Cloe donated herself to the good of human kind when she passed on. If you're squeemish about death, Roach is completely disarming with her lively and comedic style. Nothing vulgar or horrifying here, just the simple truth with hilarious side commentary.

    Loved this book! I've even read it at least three times now.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jason Sierra Vista, AZ, USA 03-23-09
    Jason Sierra Vista, AZ, USA 03-23-09 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "You cut heads off! You cut heads off!!"

    Funniest non-fiction I've ever read! This is a fantastic read. To those who criticized the "unnecessary" gruesomeness... it's about dead people!! Come on!! The author does a fine job respectfully making light of something people are way to squeamish about. I highly recommend this book. It was a fun read, and educational at the same time - just the sort for which I was looking.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joshua Philadelphia, PA, USA 08-11-05
    Joshua Philadelphia, PA, USA 08-11-05
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    "A superb read"

    I highly recommend this book. I couldn't stop listening. It is a serious book about a serious subject, but it does lighten the darker, if at times, horrific elements of being the dearly departed. Shelly Frasier does a good job of transmitting the author's sense of humor and life--and does not telegraph a "cynical" point of view; rather she captures the dark, sometimes humorous, sometimes bizarre and often ironic issues related to death which, after all, is everyone's fate.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Fort Lauderdale, FL, United States 11-17-11
    Mark Fort Lauderdale, FL, United States 11-17-11 Member Since 2005
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    "Who Knew?"

    Not for the faint of heart, this book examines in detail possible uses and methods of handling the human body a life after death I had never considered. The author deftly hanbles the subject with surprising humor. The narrator was excellent.

    I enjoyed this book.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Clint Buffalo Grove, IL, USA 04-20-04
    Clint Buffalo Grove, IL, USA 04-20-04
    HELPFUL VOTES
    21
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    "Great book!"

    This was actually a very interesting and well researched book & and was generally a lot of fun to listen to. The reader was fantastic, too. Her "smoky" voice was compelling, without being overly dramatic. Be prepared, though, for the stories of brutality that some (I hope not many) "scientists" (and I use the word loosely, at least with some of them as described here)brutalized (and still brutalize, I know) defenseless animals, in the name of "science". The people that I am describing truly, in my opinion, have cold hearts and no empathy for other living things. The book, as a whole, was top notch and very enlightening. The "experiments" are just part of the story, I guess.
    Overall, I highly endorse this audiobook.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
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  • danny
    Heaton Norris, United Kingdom
    12/4/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Really enjoyed"
    What did you like most about Stiff?

    I liked the way the author questioned the reality of the human corpse and how this vessel can serve a new purpose after the should has left it.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    No favorite character but I did like the report on the plastic surgeons and how they perceived these cadavers.


    Which scene did you most enjoy?

    No scene but I found it interesting the disposal of bodies and how aviation has used corpses to improve issues of safety


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I think it would be the plastic surgeons and the humanity that they share with the dead person that they are practising upon.


    Any additional comments?

    I really enjoyed the book and the narration, well worth a purchase

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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