Friday, June 07, 2013

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Have you ever wondered what happens to a human cadaver that has been donated to science? Well wonder no more! Mary Roach uses her extraordinary investigational skills as well as accomplished writing talent to expound on all the various ways bodies are and have been used to advance science (most of the time.) This is a must read for the inquisitive natured.

Stiff is Roach’s first book and, much like the others she has written since (Packing for Mars reviewed on this Blog 6/8/11), is altogether entertaining and informative in several respects. First is the extensive amount of research she dedicates to the subject. Second is her keen attention to detail. Third being her straightforward and candid approach mixed with a crack sense of humor, making what could be considered a less than pleasant topic actually quite enjoyable to read about, tempering the macabre element. You would think the subject matter is nothing to laugh about but that is simply not the case when left in the sensitive yet amusing and competent hands of Roach.

Related, but certainly no less interesting, ancillary material is effectively inserted throughout the book. For instance, Roach revisits the age-old controversy of whether a person’s soul or personality resides in the heart, brain, or even liver (yes, there are actually liver proponents) and then proceeds with a discussion on the use of the guillotine and severed head experiments in 18th century France. Later on she introduces burial and cremation alternatives such as “tissue digestion” and human composting through freeze-drying. Okay, if I haven’t hooked you by now, I never will.

Stiff and other equally enjoyable works by Mary Roach can be found on the VBPL catalog. I’m definitely looking forward to reading her newest book, GULP: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.

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