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

I have never read a book about cadavers. I have never seen one or touched one, smelled one or cut into one, but, after having read this book, I probably will not need to if only to further my budding curiosity. Roach’s sarcastic tone and amused point of view help to keep the reader engaged and smooth over the harshness of some of the book’s topics. As a difficult choice of journalistic pursuit, Roach does an amazing job of detailing each event exactly how it occurs and exactly how she perceives it, including her initial reactions to each and every surprising tidbit, the struggle she faces upon each encounter, and her unique ability to poise awkward questions at the examiner or student present for certain moments. The reality of each situation roars with reproach, but the author reigns this in by offering her own vulnerable, affected stream of consciousness. The adventures portrayed in the book are slightly squeamish and mildly offensive to the more conservative members of society but are so pure in their convictions and scientific study that one cannot help but feel captivated. Roach narrowly avoids sensitive topics such as the “soul” and “spirit” by sticking to in-depth, blunt imagery and honest perceptions of her interactions. As one reads further into the book, the story wraps around you and makes you start to question your own moral perspective on the afterlife of organ donors and where your cadaver could end up ultimately. I would recommend this book to anyone who is not afraid of the dirty truth and enjoys a human-approach to studying the dead, including all of its unrefined, off-kilter crudeness. Even if you don’t feel ready, there will come a day when the decision will be yours. Might as well make sure it is informed.

“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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