Book Stash: “Stiff” A Review

“How can you eat with feet looking at you?” My manager asks. I’m having lunch at the backroom desk.

“Huh?” I look up from my plate. “Oh.”

He’s referring to the book sitting on the table next to me. Its cover features a photograph of a pair of feet, soles up. There is a sheet covering the legs of those feet down to the ankle. A tag is looped around the rightmost big toe.

I shrug. “Doesn’t bother me,” I say.

“What’s it about anyway?” he asks.

“Cadavers.”

My manager looks at me as though I’ve just told him I enjoy performing satanic rituals on kittens in my spare time. I can only imagine the looks the author herself must have gotten.


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is an exploration of what happens to our bodies after we die, whether it be decomposition, organ donation, or serving as crash test dummies.

While a book about dead bodies may seem a bit off-putting to some, Mary Roach’s dry, deadpan humor breathes life into this morbidly fascinating tale of what physically happens to us after death.

Stiff spans centuries and continents, exploring the mummification techniques of the ancient Egyptians, investigating a modern day Sweeney Todd-esque tale of human dumplings, and relaying the use of cadaveric medicine in the past, which made me really appreciative of the fact I live in this century. (The amount of topical uses for human feces, as well as human remains is alarming. Dried fecal matter for blemishes, anyone? How about distilled human skull as a treatment for epilepsy. Medieval medicine is a terrifying venture.)

Through it all, Roach shows an admiration for these cadavers. These unnamed heroes have saved countless lives through medicine, have helped solve crimes in forensics, and are instrumental in making safer vehicles, equipment, and surgical procedures for those of us still kicking.

Stiff is not a book for the squeamish or faint of heart, but it is a book that manages to be lighthearted while still paying homage to all the great work our bodies have done after we leave them.

3/4 Would recommend

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