Stiff by Mary Roach (Jessica’s pick)


Have you ever been in a reading funk?  I am currently embroiled in one of these right now.  It is not fun for an addict like me.  Reading is my therapy.  To shake things up, I have a few tried and true methods.  My current favorite is to read something completely different to “shake” things up.  Insert Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.  

I don’t usually read non-fiction.  This is to my detriment, but right now I am knee deep in screaming children and mundane housework and I want my reading to take me to exotic places and put me in fantastical situations.  That being said, I LOVED this book.  Mary Roach has such a wry sense of humor and the subject matter is suitably de-emotionalized that I listened to this in record time.  Audio books and Overdrive for the win.


  Ms. Roach is an author who researched this material.  This is important because you feel like you are learning this information along with her.  I enjoyed her forays into the past and learning about the sacrifices that occurred so that we could gain our current knowledge of human anatomy.  She describes modern cadaver options and their ties to religious beliefs of the afterlife.  As a biology teacher and science junkie, I was fascinated with the whys as much as the hows.  You can never know TOO much!


The book is broken into different sections of the various ways that our cadavers exist after death.  Sounds much more macabre than it is.  This is reality, and she walks us through our options.  She combines modern day technology and customs with historical information that helps the reader understand how we have gotten to where we are.  My favorite section was on organ donation. The author is granted the opportunity to witness a body being prepared to donate their organs.  The woman whose organs they were harvesting had been declared brain dead. Through her death she was able to save so many people. I am registered to be an organ donor, and learning about the good that these remains were able to accomplish and the respect with which this woman was treated,  cemented my decision to remain one.


There were only a couple of instances where even her wit couldn’t quite mask the grossness of the subject matter.  There is disturbing content, but once again it is reality, so you can’t fault the author.

I felt that in her very last chapter she imparted her most enlightening wisdom.  She discussed how that for us (the cadavers) it really doesn’t matter what happens with our remains.  It does however matter to those we leave behind so we should make sure to be sensitive to their wishes.  I guess that rules out being plasticized and molded into a menacing statue to decorate my husband’s house.

I considered posting a picture of a plasticized body here, but I just couldn’t do that to you. You’re welcome.

I give this book a solid 4.5 stars.  Suitable for 13+, no language, no sexual content (thank goodness). However, there are some disturbing mental images and practices concerning human remains through out the world.


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