Have You Heard About... Stiff

… the fascinating and hilarious history of the human cadaver? That sentence probably wouldn’t exist in normal conversation, if it weren’t for Mary Roach’s amazing and laugh-out-loud funny book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

Using her investigative reporter skills, Mary Roach looks at the fascinating and slightly disgusting history of human cadavers - how they’ve been used throughout history, how they’re used today, and what sorts of medical advances have been made possible through cadaver research.

Each chapter is split into different topics, including “Life After Death: On Human Decay and What Can Be Done About It,” “Holy Cadaver: The Crucifixion Experiments,” and “Eat Me: Medicinal Cannibalism and the Case of the Human Dumplings.” I really liked this set-up, because it made it easy to divide up my reading sessions (e. g. “I’ll just read to the end of the cannibalism chapter”), and it felt like I was discovering something new every time I started another section. (A note of warning though: the chapters on human decay and cannibalism are NOT chapters you want to read during mealtime. I learned this the hard way.)

I have a lot of respect for nonfiction authors who can write entertaining, accessible books, and Mary Roach is at the top of that list. Her humor is pervasive throughout the entire book, which isn’t something you’d expect from a book about dead people…even her footnotes were laugh-out-loud funny. But her humor never veers into disrespectful territory, and she always maintains a curious, almost awestruck reverence for her subject matter. I dare anyone to put this book down and say they were bored with it.

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)