Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Roach writes about what happens when you donate your body to science. Hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity but it is a good dose of edutainment.

Way back around the time the earth's crust cooled and life spread across the planet, late 1994 or early 1995, I should think, I visited a chiropractic college with the rest of my Advanced Biology class. This trip was memorable to me for three reasons:

1) It was the first time I experienced an excruciating caffeine withdrawal headache
2) It was the first time I saw a human cadaver
3) I smoked five of my classmates playing pool in the student lounge at lunch.

Obviously, #2 is the one pertinent to this review, although I am still quite proud of #3. The cadaver I saw had its face covered and its skin looked shriveled, somewhat like beef jerky. My 17 year old mind briefly wondered where the man had come from before my hormone-fueled brain returned my attention to the nubile young ladies in the room. Anyway, let's get down to review business.

Mary Roach manages to take a subject that give many people the heebie-jeebies, donating one's remains to science, and makes it humorous at times. She covers such topics as learning surgical techniques via practicing on cadavers, human decomposition, ingesting human remains for medicinal purpose, using corpses in car crash tests, using cadavers for ballistics tests, crucifixion experiments, and even head transplants.

While it's not ideal meal-time reading, I didn't find it as stomach churning as some reviewers did. The talk of decomposition and quack remedies of the Middle ages were fascinating and I was really interested in the head and brain transplant experiments. Frankenstein's monster doesn't seem as unrealistic as it did yesterday.

Apparently, necrophilia is only illegal in 16 states. Imagine if that was one of your criteria when choosing a place to live. "Honey, I'd love to live in Florida but then we couldn't have our sexy parties..."

Actually, the funeral bits were also pretty enlightening. Did you know they have to suture the anus shut to keep nastiness from leaking out during a funeral? Or that dead people can fart from gas trapped in their intestines? Or that they insert special caps underneath the eyelids to keep them from suddenly opening? Fascinating stuff.

Stiff is a very interesting read for those interested in what happens when you donate your body to science, softened somewhat by Roach's sense of humor. Three easy stars.

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