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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 (3805 )
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  •  
    Alicia 09-11-07
    Alicia 09-11-07 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    15
    ratings
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    174
    3
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    "Dead right!"

    Inspired by the tv series, 6 feet under, I thought it would be interesting to read about what really happens after we die. The author even discusses our options, from the traditional to the enviromentally friendly. This book lead me through a reflection on what death really means to me and so many others. Facts, gore, and humour, what else could I ask for?!!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Yordana wheaton , IL, USA 06-19-07
    Yordana wheaton , IL, USA 06-19-07 Member Since 2014
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    11
    4
    Overall
    "Very interesting and enjoyable"

    I really enjoyed this book. The author’s light style of writing took a topic that can be difficult to discuss and made it accessible. Although parts of the book were amusing, the tone was always respectful. Very enjoyable and fascinating – made me rethink what I want to do with my body after death.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jane Seymour, TN, United States 05-14-07
    Jane Seymour, TN, United States 05-14-07 Member Since 2009
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    64
    5
    Overall
    "Morbidly funny"

    I thought this audiobook was hysterical! As a nurse I learned quite a few answers to questions I was afraid to ask. Provided me with even more respect for the dead and a stronger desire to donate whatever is needed!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Zena olympia, WA, USA 05-11-07
    Zena olympia, WA, USA 05-11-07
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    14
    3
    Overall
    "101 uses for flesh"

    The author has done well with a topic that could well be dead weight. However, I found myself being cautious not to eat during the reading.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nancy Bloomfield, MI, United States 03-09-07
    Nancy Bloomfield, MI, United States 03-09-07 Member Since 2007

    Never got to go to a library until the age of 8 ! Since then I have become a book addict. History, biography and fiction all thrill me.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    "interesting and funny"

    This book was sugested to me by my son. The premis sounds morbid but I enjoyed every minute. I now want to listen to all of her books.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher Hamtramck, MI, USA 11-17-06
    Christopher Hamtramck, MI, USA 11-17-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    197
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    70
    28
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    2
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    "Dealing with Death"

    I learned.

    Sometimes that is all I want from a reading, and I got it here. I was also entertained. She is not as clever as Bill Bryson or Sarah Vowell, two who make a living on enlightening while entertaining, but she can at least be mentioned in the same sentance as them.

    One disappointment, perhaps because of a deadline, is that little is said about plastination-- the process of turning body tissue into plastic. I saw the controversial show in Denver of posed plastinated bodies and it was amazing. She mentions an earlier show in Europe but obviously didn't see it. It is too bad, because this is the biggest thing to happen to the corpse in decades.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D. Blumenau USA 11-15-06
    D. Blumenau USA 11-15-06 Member Since 2005

    db20010

    ratings
    REVIEWS
    54
    1
    Overall
    "Fascinating"

    I had been eye-balling this book for a few years, but thought to myself, "Who reads a book about cadavers"? I was especially hesitant because I lost a family member about two years ago and thought I might be picturing him while reading about cadavers. Well, I finally decided to read it - much to the dismay of my husband.

    What a great book! At times I found it rather disturbing, but mostly I found it fascinating. The author is a great writer and manages to add quite a bit of humor to the topic.

    Highly recommended...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sam Sacramento,, CA, USA 09-03-06
    Sam Sacramento,, CA, USA 09-03-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    21
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    "Want to blow your mind?"

    This was an amazing book. The commute miles just flew by and, unlike with fiction, I was still enriching my mind and learning new trivia with which to annoy my wife and coworkers.

    From the first paragraph, this book is captivating in a guilty, gross, leering way. The narrator is perfect for this type of text and the author's sense of humor is transferred to the listener in the best possible way. I only wish I could find another audiobook this intresting... or two or three.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Geff tacoma, WA, USA 06-19-06
    Geff tacoma, WA, USA 06-19-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    70
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    8
    6
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    "A lively read!"

    This is one of those books that could be a POSTER CHILD for audio books in general - simply one of the most inspired works I've ever experienced. The marriage of a charming, wry and astute author (think David Sedaris as a forensic journalist) with a narrator who's own talents - not to mention sense of irony - is definitely up to the task. In an engrossing span of chapters ranging from airline crash investigators to funeral directors brushing up their cosmetic skills on anonymous decapitions, Roach never forces a cheap laugh, but unearths many as she explores the history and state of our mortal ends with a scientists eye and a wisecracking mouth. There are certain chapters I enjoyed more than others (and found lesser and more compelling) but overall I have rarely seen such deft journalistic skills more hilariously demonstrated. Defintely a 5-star listen!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff Baltimore, MD, USA 04-08-06
    Jeff Baltimore, MD, USA 04-08-06
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    70
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    "The book is good but the audio version is best."

    Here is a toast to Mrs Roach and her book STIFF. Her writing is very talented in the descriptions which she gives of a subject matter that not many find pleasant to contemplate or discuss. She describes that her interest in this topic began as personal and then developed into the book. With her skills as an author she effectively captured me and had me enjoying her serious but light hearted approach.

    More than the book itself is the excellent narration. Done by Ms. Frasier it is in perfect harmony with the mind, writing and spirit of the material. She effectively adds to the pleasure of the book by pacing her the reading and delivering the appropriate pauses to properly deliver the humor of the book. Cheers for Ms. Frasier!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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