Review: Stiff – The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach



Penguin | 2004

Filed Under: Thinking about your own expiration date has never been more fun!

I think if you’re into the macabre and the dark side of life, or death as it were, then this book is recommended reading for you.

Truth be told, I am not a science-brained kind of girl. Or history. Or geography. Or math. Really anything that requires a level of intelligence that is based on facts and an excessive amount of information and concentration.

Those are just not my strong suits.

As much as my high school teachers would want to make me feel bad about that with those shitty grades I kept getting, I’ve accepted myself now as an adult. I fully embrace that I will never be able to help my stepkids with science or math homework. They could ask me about English and art though. But, I do appreciate logic and thoughtfulness.

I do have some intelligence, thank you.

With that in mind, Mary Roach makes heavy scientific topics, experimentation and the history of anatomy and scientific discovery, easy enough for this dumb-dumb to understand. And even find funny! Roach imbues her writing with levity and a flirtatious tone that makes this more entertaining and less textbook.

Maybe ‘funny’ isn’t something you expect to associate with cadavers and their uses, but it works in this book. It walked a line between informative, engaging and delightful with precision so any dark and twisty book nerd will enjoy it.

For the less dark and twisty among us, there are great sections in this book that will make you think and examine your opinions.

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I’d like to say I’m surprised by some of the US legal things that came up regarding crash testing cars with cadavers etc., but given what kind of “spiritual” prudes the US representatives have been towards things like sex education, abortion, climate change and stem cell research, it’s really not at all surprising that they’d rather test the effects of car accidents on dogs or pigs, than on cadavers when that could actually save human lives in the big picture.

Though I am, in large part, a misanthrope, I do have respect for human beings and the advances we can make as a society. It seems just plain ridiculous that there would ever be a question about what kind of scientific research we should be doing with cadavers. As if they know. As if they didn’t donate their bodies to science for a reason. As if some person sitting in a government chamber going “ewwwww” about research that makes them uncomfortable is a good enough reason to not see progress and find advancements for the future safety of all of us. Or to cure diseases. Or to save a woman’s life.

Like, for real some of you suck.

If you don’t like hearing that, please head to the comment section, take what you’d like to write back to me in argument and insert it deep into your rectum, because I don’t give a shit.

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That said, there’s also a part of this book about souls that I found kind of silly and eye-roll worthy. I’m not religious or “spiritual” so the idea that souls were even included in a book based on cadaver science didn’t land with me. Especially when you start getting into things like the donor organ transferring “traits” of the “soul” it came from into the recipient. “I got a new heart and it made me a sex addict!” No, you had a brush with death and the psychological ramification of that, combined with knowing someone else’s heart is in your body, has fucked you up. Stop cheating on your wife and get some therapy!

Anyway, I’m not typically a super squeamish person, except for that part in Hostel where he slashes that guy’s ankles…

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…but the whole thing about animal testing in this book just made me want to scream. Head transplants on monkeys just to see what happens??? I will burn this place to the FUCKING GROUND!

As I said, I’m all for progress and logic/science-based laws and rules, but I have a huge, huge, Huge, HUGE problem with animal testing. Just as I would with child testing. Anything that is alive and cannot fight back should be left the fuck alone.

All in all, this was a fun and educational read. I typically don’t want to be educated on science-y topics, I can’t keep my eyes open, but this worked for me. The part about The Body Farm was probably my favourite. Fun fact, my husband once suggested we take our honeymoon there.

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There’s much to be absorbed from this and I think it opened my mind to what my options are after I die… If I ever do! Muahahahahahahhsdgffg *cough, choking*… (But seriously, become an organ donor.)

I think I’d like my ashes put into a bio urn so that I can become a tree in death. I’d selectively choose to whom I will give my oxygen outputs. None for you, Trump supporters!


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. 

2 thoughts on “Review: Stiff – The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

  1. Wow, I had no idea this book touched on so many topics, especially souls??? 🤨 It’s been on my shelf for ages, and I picked it up once but never read it cause life sucks and I never have time for reading anymore, but this review makes me interested again! Not too excited to read about the animal stuff, though…

    Liked by 1 person

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