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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers [Paperback]

Mary Roach
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 July 2004

What happens to your body after you have died? Fertilizer? Crash Test Dummy? Human Dumpling? Ballistics Practise?

Life after death is not as simple as it looks. Mary Roach's Stiff lifts the lid off what happens to our bodies once we have died. Bold, original and with a delightful eye for detail, Roach tells us everything we wanted to know about this new frontier in medical science.

Interweaving present-day explorations with a history of past attempts to study what it means to be human Stiff is a deliciously dark investigations for readers of popular science as well as fans of the macabre

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (1 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141007451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141007458
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


The numerous tidbits of information derived from the author's travels and interviews make [this book] uniquely appealing.--Joseph H Davis, MD (07/16/2003)

About the Author

Mary Roach is a journalist. She has written for Salon, Wired, GQ, Discover, Vogue and the New York Times Magazine. This is her first book.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
72 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gee, I want to be a STIFF when I grow up! 19 Jan 2006
Perhaps author Mary Roach thought the title of her book, STIFF, too ghoulish because she immediately begins in a festive mood:
"... being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you." Carnival, Viking, and Holland America, take note.
As a corpse, you can indeed, as on last summer's voyage to the Bahamas, veg out. Or, as the narrative reveals, be an integral part of other activities. Why, I didn't realize that being dead could be so lively.
First and foremost, your cadaver could become the prize of body snatchers, and subsequently be sold to a medical school for the instruction and amusement of students. Or perhaps you aspire to become a crash test dummy, fodder for the military's munitions tests, or the subject of experiments in composting, freeze-drying or plastination. If you're unlucky enough to die in an airplane disaster of unknown cause, investigators may scrutinize your body, or its widely scattered pieces, for clues as to where in the aircraft the fuselage cracked open or the bomb exploded. Your dissected brain or heart could fuel arguments over the seat of the soul, while other body parts serve as the raw material for disease remedies. Or maybe just be eaten by cannibals. And, if you're the outdoorsy type, you can recline in a grove on a grassy hillside behind the University of Tennessee Medical Center where the various stages of human decomposition are studied and recorded.
STIFF is one of the most fascinating books I've read recently, even after taking into account the "yuk" factor.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humourous, informative & highly accessible 15 Sep 2005
I know quite a few people have been put off this book due to its subject matter, but I couldn't recommend it highly enough.
Mary Roach approaches the subject with great humour, whilst all the time remaining respectful of such a highly sensitive subject. One of the main I enjoyed about the book was how accessible she had made something which borders between science & medicine, meaning that anyone could pick up the book and clearly understand. Aditionally, the research has been carefully carried out and there are so many interesting facts in here I don't think I could bear to be parted from this book.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of gory details 22 Jan 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A well written and amusing book about what happens to the bits you leave behind. The author covers just about every method of 'disposal' from being used as a car crash dummy through to being composted. Some of the details may well put you off your food as well as leaving you unsure as to what you want done with your remains.
An interesting and informative book that I would highly recommend.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing 26 Aug 2004
This book is both funny and respectful without being ghoulish. The author delves into the world of cadavers and provides the reader with a fascinating insight into what happens to bodies donated for medical/forensic research. She tells how students respect the bodies they use for research, and shows that even those who deal with death and cadavers on a daily basis still react as most of us would. As the previous reviewer says, this book may change your mind about dontating your body to science but if you do decide to at least you can read about what is likely to happen!!!! Seriously though I did enjoy this book and would recommend it as a good read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best! 26 July 2003
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Once you get past the uninspiring dust-jacket, this book is brilliant! Written in a very readable and unsensational way, this book will tell you all you want to know, and what you don't, about what happens to those who donate their bodies for medical research. The author has a very friendly and humerous way of looking at death, and its aftermath, but has a sensitive and understanding approach to the dead and those performing the research. I heard a review of 'Stiff' on Radio 4, bought the book from Amazon, and, once I started to read it, couldn't put it down!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stiff by Mary Roach 6 Dec 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is one of the most amazing books I have read. It told me everything I wanted to know about our bodies after death, all the things you can't really ask the medics without being a pain or the questions being inappropriate. Mary Roach combines a serious subject with a touch of humour. I loved this book and read lots of fascinating facts to my husband (he didn't exactly share my enthusiasm). A must for those who love science in all its forms.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, informative and wholly readable! 25 Dec 2004
Trust only a prolific columnist like Mary Roach to embark upon a science-n-history-laden world of dead bodies and turn it into something of an un-put-down-able page turner. Non-fiction with a dose of journalism seldom got this readable.
The book, as Roach so excellently puts it in her introduction is, about "behind-the-scenes dead"--the cadavers. Right from a brilliant introduction (Roach's conviction for the subject alongwith her experience with the first cadaver--that of her mum's sets the ball rolling!), one is introduced to the worlds of surgery, anatomy crimes, body decay, cadavers in crash tests, injury analysis in catastrophes such as air-crashes, ballistic and weapon testing, organ transplantation, decapitation, medicinal cannibalism, freeze-drying funerals, tissue digestion, plastination in reasonable detail. It doesn't set out to be some exhaustive illustrated guide to the world of cadavers but ends up being a fairly comprehensive and updated account on the subject.
Each of the topics above finds itself seeped in some history, some science (the research by Roach is marvellous-- just a look at the number and diversity of sources she extracts the information from is proof enough) and some first-hand personal experience (with Roach herself probing at crematoriums, labs, dead-body fields, surgeons, scientists, analysts--each of them equally insightful). Having said that, let the book not lull you into a false feeling of having known everything about cadavers after reading it-- I see it more as a corridor to the curious lives of cadavers.
As said earlier, Roach's a masterful writer who can elicit a chuckle or make you ponder without too many words or preaching.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Read
Excellent, witty, well written, informative book about an unusual topic
Published 1 day ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it
Published 3 days ago by tony williams
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Arrived in excellent time, in good condition and as described. What more could you ask for?
Published 4 days ago by Dee of Hants
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good read
I enjoyed this book, it was very detailed and had loads of information on a lot of stuff I'm interested in. Read more
Published 7 days ago by stephanie lindsay
3.0 out of 5 stars I skipped through a lot of the boring chapters
A bit long-winded in parts but for me, as someone in the funeral business, I found it kind of interesting.
Published 9 days ago by Amazon queen
5.0 out of 5 stars book
good book - quick delivery
Published 9 days ago by helen chapman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
What a Fantastic Book - liked it very much.
Published 13 days ago by Angelika Olszynska
5.0 out of 5 stars utterly amazing!
As an anatomy student this book covered every thought process we have & also revealed the vast nature of body donation, which we greatly appreciate, as without it... Read more
Published 1 month ago by DudettePuddin
4.0 out of 5 stars Dead good
Very interesting book and gives you food for thought as to what to do with your body when you are dead. Very respectfully written but also very honest.
Published 1 month ago by Claire
5.0 out of 5 stars great book.
Brilliant book by Mary Roach, light hearted yet informative too. Bought another as a gift.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. S. J. Briggs
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