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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 (3573 )
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  •  
    Sam Sacramento,, CA, USA 09-03-06
    Sam Sacramento,, CA, USA 09-03-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    21
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    45
    9
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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
    67
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    8
    6
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    0
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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
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    70
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    Overall
    "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
  •  
    Mark Ear Falls, ON, Canada 02-04-06
    Mark Ear Falls, ON, Canada 02-04-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    8
    2
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    "Required reading???"

    In my younger days I drove ambulance and had also been a police officer. I guess that I bought this book to revive some of the humor used when dealing with the deceased(maybe you had to be there) but the author even touches on bad taste in my books. We used the jokes to relieve tensions of the moment but to write a whole book with this dry humour of the trade didn't sit well with me. The uses of cadavers was enlightning and yet I'll likely opt for creamation after this read. I'd have liked it much more though back in the day... maybe!

    3 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kristi Houston, TX, USA 09-29-05
    Kristi Houston, TX, USA 09-29-05 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    26
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    12
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    "Ok...not great but not a waste of a credit"

    This book was only 'ok'. I like all types of books, so I think I am a pretty open minded listener. I am not easily offended, and this book didn't really offend me, but I could see where some people could be VERY turned off. The author tries to add humor - sometimes I believe in an attempt at comic relief, but often falls short by being too flippant or just plain not funny.

    It was interesting to hear all of the different ways a cadaver can be used in the name of science, and also to hear the different uses and superstitions that have transpired through the years.

    This wasn't a bad book - I think many people will find it mildly entertaining while some will hate it.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maria Oakland, CA, United States 03-05-05
    Maria Oakland, CA, United States 03-05-05 Member Since 2004
    ratings
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    463
    1
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    "Perfect Narration!"

    This comically informative book creates a macabre fascination that is delightful to... embody. But what really brings the audio edition home is the fantastic narration of Shelly Frasier. Her scratchy, quirky voice and perfect comedic timing had me laughing out loud at some point during every chapter!

    A word to the wise, though: Do not attempt to listen to this partcular tome too close to mealtimes... even if you're vegetarian!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    hspskm Woodbridge, VA 11-25-04
    hspskm Woodbridge, VA 11-25-04 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
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    395
    12
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    "Fascinating"

    While the subject and some of the content of the book is macabre, it is fascinating. There were times that I thought I ought to give up I couldn't do it. Had to keep going and I'm glad I did. Worth the time.

    WARNING: This book IS NOT for the squeamish!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pamela Sonoma, CA, United States 06-23-04
    Pamela Sonoma, CA, United States 06-23-04 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    188
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    45
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    5
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    "Sarcasm pervades"

    My objection to this book was not the subject matter. As a matter of fact, I thought the topic the author selected to write about was intriguiging and different, in an odd but good way. What ruins the story is the author's non-stop sarcasm -- no paragraph goes un-punned. The first time I thought, tongue-in-cheek, "Ha, cute;" but it is incessant, and by the third chapter I was ready to scream, "ENOUGH!" The author managed to shoot herself in the foot with her writing style. Her style is self-conscious, mocking and condescending. She is off my reading list.

    8 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    K. Nelson Flagstaff,AZ 04-20-04
    K. Nelson Flagstaff,AZ 04-20-04 Member Since 2002

    Khlash

    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
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    "Not for the sensitive..."

    This was a pretty good book. Its definitely not for anyone who is sensitive talking about dead bodies. Apparently Im one of those people because I really had to force myself to finish this book. It does a good job overall however.

    2 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Troy Brandon, FL, United States 12-04-11
    Troy Brandon, FL, United States 12-04-11 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    120
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    "I loved it."

    I loved it. I find the author's approach to a macabre subject refreshingly light. Yes, she used a bit of bathroom humor, but if your like me-someone who had to step up to get your mind out of the gutter- you'll love it.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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