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What Happens When Our Body Dies: Review of Mary Roach’s “Stiff”

Posted on the 08 February 2013 by Crossstitchyourheart @TMNienaber

What Happens When Our Body Dies: Review of Mary Roach’s “Stiff”I normally don’t go for non-fiction books but I’m trying to turn over a new leaf for the new year so I thought I’d start out with a non-fiction book that seemed stranger than fiction.  In her book, Stiff, Roach takes us into the world of the human cadaver and what we can expect if we choose to donate our bodies to science.  She explores all kinds of different cadaver-centric worlds from the anatomy labs in med schools to brain dissections, the 19th century art of body stealing and grave robbing, certain cultures’ traditions of medically recommended cannibalism, ammunitions testing, Harvard’s brain bank, and a few other treats I’ll let you discover on your own.


Roach has a unique writing style that keeps this book from being dryly

What Happens When Our Body Dies: Review of Mary Roach’s “Stiff”
scientific (so if you’re looking for a purely scientific book this is not the read for you) but if you’re interested in some scientific facts surrounded by entertaining anecdotes then this might be something for you to consider.  Roach’s humor is not for everyone and there were points in the book where I felt she was being a little disrespectful (I respect that she has difficulty believing in God or an afterlife but her handling of some of the instances where faith and death meet were borderline mocking. The belief in God is something many people hold dear, the afterlife a comfort to those who have lost loved ones, and I wish Roach had honored that a little more when the subject came up).  Aside from those few instances I found Roach’s anecdotes humorous and broke up what is otherwise a very gruesome subject.


What Happens When Our Body Dies: Review of Mary Roach’s “Stiff”
Know what you’re getting yourself into before you pick up this book.  While Roach’s dark humor helps to alleviate some of the seriousness of her topic there is still more than enough to turn a squeamish reader’s stomach.  She describes the process of an autopsy in depth and paints you a picture of a university corpse field (where corpses are allowed to decompose in various scenarios for research)  in detail.


It’s obvious this book is for entertainment purposes first and foremost.  I know I was entertained while reading it, but the information Roach gives is still well-researched and useful if you’re looking for an introduction to cadavers.   If you’re looking for something that goes more in-depth or technical this is probably not the book for you.  Roach covers a large variety of topics in a basic way, but doesn’t go very in-depth to any of them.  She does, however, have a detailed list of resources in the back of her book so you can do some more exploring on your own.  While this book may not be for the faint of heart it’s a great introduction to the scientific world of death and is interesting, darkly humorous read.

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