Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach


I always thought I had a fairly strong stomach when it came to the medical field, until I read this book. I also did it an injustice by listening to the audio version of When Breath Becomes Air, a philosophical approach to death that is so beautifully written, any other book I was reading at the time could only pale in comparison.

The smart thing to do is review Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, on its own merits, of which there are plenty.

There is no doubt that the journey of a human cadaver is fascinating. This book talks about all of the different possible routes a body donated to science can take, with a lot of details about those routes. We all know that medical students work on cadavers, but did you know that working physicians do too? They are used to practice procedures before doing them on a live person.  But cadavers are also used for studies on decomposition in different environments–that was a fun, grisly chapter–and as crash test dummies in cars.

You learn about when cadavers were first used, the ethical ramifications, and alternatives where cadavers aren’t even necessary to hone a doctor’s skills. You will also learn about the embalming process and its history. (That was pretty interesting.)

Some things about donating your body to science: It doesn’t go to waste, it will be treated as a gift, and it benefits the future. If you don’t think about where it is going and what might happen to it, you’ll be fine.

All in all, the book is intriguing. There’s plenty to learn and much humor infused throughout without being disrespectful. Who knows? It might even make you rethink your future wishes…when that melancholy event occurs.

8.5/10 Stars


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