Audio Book Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers

Stiff CoverBook: Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, narrated by Shelly Frasier

Published February 2004 by Tantor Audio|Run Time: 7 hours, 59 minutes

Where I Got It: audible.com

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction- Science/Medicine

You can find Stiff on goodreads & Mary Roach on twitter and her website

Goodreads Summary: 

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

For 2,000 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.

What I Thought:

Stiff is definitely one of the strangest books I’ve ever read or listened to!  But in a totally good way because it was fascinating, and I couldn’t listen to it fast enough.  What’s super-interesting about Stiff is that it’s not something you normally think about.  I know you can donate your organs and body to science, but it’s not like I spend time thinking about all the people who donate themselves to science or what happens to the body itself after death.

One of the things I found really interesting was the chapter about the crash-test cadavers.  I know there are crash-test times, and I never even considered the possibility that cadavers are used.  It makes total sense that a dummy can only tell you so much, and that cadavers would be used to see how the crash simulations impact an actual human body.  And even how airplanes can be made safer by studying how it affects the human body.

There are so many interesting little tidbits throughout the book, and while it might not be a good book to read when you’re eating, it’s not a book that will make you squeamish.  I would know, since I have a tendency to get grossed out by stuff, and I didn’t find Stiff to be like that at all.

It’s actually pretty entertaining, and Roach has a way of making it humorous and interesting while also being educational. Like, there’s a best preserved body contest.  I think it’s hosted by an embalming company.  Or the research done by a university that has a field of decomposed bodies to better understand how different things affect the stages of decomposition.  Or even the plastic surgeons who were practicing some techniques on severed heads, and how it’s a good way for them to practice because there’s less pressure than during an actual surgery on an actual person.

It is astounding to me, and achingly sad, that with eighty thousand people on the waiting list for donated hearts and livers and kidneys, with sixteen a day dying there on that list, that more then half of the people in the position H’s family was in will say no, will choose to burn those organs or let them rot. We abide the surgeon’s scalpel to save our own lives, out loved ones’ lives, but not to save a stranger’s life. H has no heart, but heartless is the last thing you’d call her.

This is definitely one of the things that as stayed with me and jumped out at me when I was listening to Stiff.  I knew for sure I wanted to donate my organs before I even read Stiff…and I like that it came up naturally.  Then again, it’s not hard to with a book like this.

So, I listened to Stiff, which in itself is odd, because I don’t normally listen to non-fiction.  Still, it’s fun enough to listen to, and if I did listen to more non-fiction on audio, I think I’d go with something like Stiff.  The narrator was okay- not completely amazing, but she wasn’t completely horrible either.

Let’s Rate It:

Stiff is definitely one of the more interesting books I’ve listened to in quite a while.  It’s an odd topic, for sure, but Roach made it really fun to listen to, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about something I don’t normally think about.  Stiff gets 4 stars.

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