Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a mostly gross and occasionally very interesting book.

I purchased the book in the first place because I enjoyed Mary Roach’s previous book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.  Roach’s writing style is unique.  She seems to just wander through thoughts as they come to her, giving research in one area and then another until you get back to the original point.  In reality, I think that she structures the books very cleanly so that they feel like narratives or ethnography, but they actually have quite a bit of research involved.  With both Bonk and Stiff, there were several times when I got bogged down in the research and studies, but the narrative and stories of the researchers (and how hard it is to do research in both areas) move the book along and give a place for the research to hang.

Stiff took me about a month to get through.  It is only about 8 hours of narrative, but frankly some of it is pretty hard to listen to.  Mostly interesting, but still hard.  The worst was the chapter on medicinal uses of cadavers (in other words, how folk medicine has used parts of dead bodies to incorporate into their medicine).  The chapter on decomposition of bodies was also pretty bad, but not nearly as stomach churning.

I bought the book because I liked the author more than the subject.  I finished the book still liking the author, but I really do not think I want to know anything else about cadavers.


This book is on my list. I saw it on display at the medical museum on the Walter Reed campus which had some rather gruesome displays. I might find the book more interesting and less gross than you being a doctor and all. I'll ket you know.

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