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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 (3608 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Paul Krasner 08-20-10 Member Since 2005

    I like books that have interesting characters and easy to follow plots. For example, Cormoran Strike, is a great character for me.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Simultaneously repulsive and fascinating"

    I enjoyed this book thoroughly. There were parts that were so repulsive that I almost had to stop listening but I persevered and was rewarded with one of the funniest, fascinating books I've ever listened to. The reader was particularly good. She captured the dark humor side of the book. How can we go wrong when a book lists the most common ways of testing a corpse for truly being dead including a red-hot poker up the butt?

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephanie Orlando, FL, USA 05-27-04
    Stephanie Orlando, FL, USA 05-27-04
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    "fascinating introduction to a macabre subject"

    i admit it. i watch CSI religiously. i like forensics shows. so this book would appeal to me. but mary roach does a fantastic job of not only delving into areas most of us would go to great pains to avoid, but also addressing the moral and ethical issues of such topics as organ donation and the use of cadavers in research. i learned a lot, the reading is well done, and the writing is done in a very accessible, even entertaining style. highly recommended.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 12-05-11
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 12-05-11 Member Since 2005

    Addicted to Audible!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Listen with an empty stomach"

    This book seemed well researched and the narrator was excellent. There was enough humor to take the edge off the topic. I was fascinated until the last part of the book where they started describing pharmaceuticals, in that section I got physically nauseated ( and I am a nurse) and had to stop listening. Maybe just listen on an empty stomach and fast forward over the parts you cant take. I learned quite a bit that was valuable to me!

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steve Massachusetts, USA 11-18-11
    Steve Massachusetts, USA 11-18-11 Member Since 2011
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    Story
    "What Happens When You Die?"

    Have you ever wondered what happens to bodies when they die? Maybe not, but believe me it's probably a lot more interesting than you think.

    Mary Roach does a great job of describing just how much we've been able to learn from our fallen ancestors. Dissections have helped transform many surgeries from a painful nightmare into a high-probability savior. Decomposition tests have provided crime scene investigators with new techniques to use when tracking down a criminal. Car manufacturers have used dead bodies to make automobiles safer for the living. The list goes on and on.

    Things are not always pretty in cadaver land however, and Mary Roach does a great job of covering the darker aspects of this topic as well. You'll learn about body snatching, cannibalism, head transplants, vivisection, and lots of other gory details. This audiobook is not for the squeamish - fair warning! I'm not a very squeamish person, but I was squirming during some of the more descriptive sections. If you have trouble with stuff like this - don't listen while driving!

    Shelly Frasier does a great job with the narration of Stiff. At first her somewhat quirky voice took a bit of getting used to for me, but Stiff is a quirky book and it really fits perfectly.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jim Westlake, OH, United States 07-31-07
    Jim Westlake, OH, United States 07-31-07 Member Since 2005
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    "Simply Superb!"

    I work for a hospital and although I personally don't come across any cadavers in the course of my job, there's always something in the back of my mind which quietly reminds me that there aren't just "alive" people here in the hospital; there are some dead ones in the building, as well.

    I normally would not have purchased/read a book about cadavers. However, the reviews out there on the Internet convinced me to take a chance on this book.

    This book is superb in every way!

    Mary Roach did an enormous amount of research before writing this book, and she fills it with not just tons of factual information, from Medieval times through modern day, but she presents it with a subdued, dry wit which made this book not only informative, but also hilarious.

    I listened to this audiobook on my way to and from work for an entire week, and the following Monday I found myself wishing that Mary Roach had more audiobooks available on anything scientific, as she has to be one of the most informative, yet funny science writers I've ever come across.

    I feel that this book deserves a 5-star rating. It is simply superb!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    05-15-06
    05-15-06 Listener Since 2005
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    "Didn't Feel Creepy At All"

    This book is not 8 solid hours of what happens to your body when you die. This book takes you back through history and shows you the contributions that cadavors made to science through the years, including their use as crash test dummies, in determining the causes of plane crashes, etc.

    I didn't get squeemish at all, and would recommend this book to anyone who has a scientific curiosity and can handle the thought of what will happen to their body when our time is up.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Margo St. Anthony, ID, United States 07-20-05
    Margo St. Anthony, ID, United States 07-20-05 Member Since 2003
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    "Very Worth It!"

    I've now listened to this book twice about 1 year apart. It's obvious I like it. I love the narration and the subject matter is compelling. The author does a great job of giving the information along with a good dose of humor.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Martha rapid city, SD, USA 08-23-04
    Martha rapid city, SD, USA 08-23-04
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    "Funny - but NOT disrespectful"

    This was very,very interesting. I thought the humor took away some of the gorriness. I reccommend it.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alison Westlake, OH, USA 08-11-04
    Alison Westlake, OH, USA 08-11-04
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    "Excellent!"

    This is a great read for the scientific and macabre mind. I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions, looking around to be sure no one heard what it was I was laughing about!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RAY LAMOREAUX 03-14-04
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    "Stiff"

    "Stiff", An enlightening and sometimes light hearted look at a difficult subject. Now... what should I do with my own remains?

    8 of 11 people found this review helpful
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