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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!
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."...
Published on 19 Jan 2006 by Joseph Haschka

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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great!
As a scientist who uses human cadavers in my teaching and research I was excited when I saw this book. Death, and anything associated with it, is such a taboo subject that to have an aspect of it tackled well would've been great. Indeed the mystery associated with cadavers and what happens to them is such that it probably exacerbates the suffering of the bereaved and...
Published on 19 Nov 2003 by Ryuto


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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
By 
Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
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. (In ancient Rome, the blood of freshly slaughtered gladiators was thought to cure epilepsy, while modern day Web sites have recipes for Placenta Lasagna and Placenta Pizza for those who would consume the delicacy to stave off postpartum depression.) This is largely due to the author's chatty style and marvelous sense of humor, which is dry as a mummy. For example, when declaring the existence of a Central Park statue of a certain Dr. Sims, otherwise notable for describing a suitable patient position for gynecological exam, Roach writes in a footnote:
"If you don't believe me, you can look it up yourself, on page 56 of THE ROMANCE OF PROCTOLOGY. (Sims was apparently something of a dilettante when it came to bodily orifices.) P.S.: I could not, from cursory skimming, ascertain what the romance was."
I highly recommend STIFF for the not too squeamish adult, or as a scary Halloween gift for one who is. Or as a bedtime reader for precocious youngsters - they'll think it gross, but way cool, as children are wont to do.
In case you're wondering, there's no photo section.
Note: This is my unedited review.
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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
By 
A. Taylor (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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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
By 
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
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P. Blunsden (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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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
By 
Anne Crofts (Harpenden, England) - See all my reviews
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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
By 
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. There's nuggets of sarcasm and wit providing the required relief and there are some very passionate and thought-provoking critique of the procedures dead bodies have had to go through over the years. If you have got hilarious footnotes, you also get some wonderful ending words at each chapter's climax (e.g. "We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.")
Dealing with the world of dead bodies, the book talks about the subject in such colloquial and matter-of-factly language that nowhere does its tone make you feel like some biology student nor its details make you switch off your night-lamp.
The wow factor remains very high throughout, most possibly because of the unconventionality of the "lives of dead bodies". Though its tough to decide what for me was the best chapter, the ones on human decay and injury analysis are superbly penned. The crucifixation experiments and the medicinal cannibalism are perhaps the most graphic and gory chapters of the book (squeamish, sensitive readers-watch out!) while the one of on whole body transplant isn't quite as well written as the others. And yes, the one on freeze-drying funeral where the body ends up as compost is indeed one helluva practical idea and something worth discussing.
All said and done, I'll probably always remember this book and author for lending me some knowledge about this elusive world of cadavers in such a witty and passionate manner, and for making me ponder over the fact of "What shall be done to my body once I die?" In author's words, I'll leave it for my parents to decide (with an exception for organ donation). No strict wills, no after-death wishes. Strange what some books do to you!
Highly recommended!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gee, Mommy, can I too be a STIFF when I grow up?, 22 May 2003
By 
Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
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. (In ancient Rome, the blood of freshly slaughtered gladiators was thought to cure epilepsy, while modern day Web sites have recipes for Placenta Lasagna and Placenta Pizza for those who would consume the delicacy to stave off postpartum depression.) This is largely due to the author's chatty style and marvelous sense of humor, which is dry as a mummy. For example, when declaring the existence of a Central Park statue of a certain Dr. Sims, otherwise notable for describing a suitable patient position for gynecological exam, Roach writes in a footnote:
"If you don't believe me, you can look it up yourself, on page 56 of THE ROMANCE OF PROCTOLOGY. (Sims was apparently something of a dilettante when it came to bodily orifices.) P.S.: I could not, from cursory skimming, ascertain what the romance was."
I highly recommend STIFF for the not too squeamish adult, or as a scary Halloween gift for one who is. Or as a bedtime reader for precocious youngsters - they'll think it gross, but way cool, as children are wont to do.
In case you're wondering, there's no photo section.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great!, 19 Nov 2003
By 
Ryuto (Sheffield, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
As a scientist who uses human cadavers in my teaching and research I was excited when I saw this book. Death, and anything associated with it, is such a taboo subject that to have an aspect of it tackled well would've been great. Indeed the mystery associated with cadavers and what happens to them is such that it probably exacerbates the suffering of the bereaved and probably puts off potential body/organ donors! Mary Roach has gone a long way to enlightening the general public to these mysteries and comes up with some interesting facts, but also some not so useful comments. For example, she suggests that the fate of a human remains, disposed of in convential ways, is so ghastly that the alternative of being used in research and educations is much more appealing! Not the greatest thing to have quoted at you when one is involved in dissection! But my main critisism is her writing style (it's interesting that she writes for GQ magazine-says it all really!). Much is made of her use of humour within the text, but as a British reader I found her 'witty comments' obtrusive at best, and irritating at worst. The asterisked notes at the foot of the page spoiled the flow of the writing and when they were a cheap method of telling a gag it just got on my nerves! I suspect that this sort of humour goes down well in the USA but not so well with this reader here in the UK. It just wasn't funny so leave it out! On a more academic note, a full list of references would've been helpful.
This is a reasonable book about a fascinating subject but it could've been done better!
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Left me cold, 19 May 2004
Stiff is an excellent, irreverent examination of what happens to the human body after death. Not for the squeamish, it is in equal parts scientific, gory and laugh-out-loud funny, but it is also respectful of how death effects those left behind. Be warned, however - it just may cause you to change your mind about donating your body to science.
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