Monday, April 6, 2009

Book Review: Stiff

I just read the book "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach. Those of you who enjoy the Reader's Digest might recognize her name...she writes the monthly humor column "My Planet," wherein she explores conundrums of everyday life, such as losing car keys or recycling. She approaches things in a matter-of-fact yet tongue-in-cheek way, and I really can't think of anyone more qualified to take on the topic of, well, dead people.
"The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.
"If I were to take a cruise, I would prefer that it be one of those research cruises, where the passengers, while still spending much of the day laying on their backs with blank minds, also get to help out with a scientist's research project..."
I will say right off the bat that this book is NOT for everyone. There are some parts which are decidedly gory, even macabre; however as a whole it was a fascinating, couldn't-put-it-down sort of book. The book begins with the more well-known cadaver careers such as anatomy classes, surgical practice, organ donation, and forensic studies at the Body Farm. It then moves into some of the less-known facts, such as bullet testing, and the truth about embalming. Near the end is a chapter about ways in which bodies have been eaten (yes, by other humans) for medicinal purposes...that was the one chapter that I actually found a bit disgusting, although the latter half of it asked some very interesting (and I think valid) questions about why cannibalism is so taboo. The penultimate chapter discussed composting as an alternative to burial or cremation, and the book concludes with the author's own thoughts about what she wants done with her body, now that she really knows all the options. (I have thought about the options before, and felt pretty certain in my conclusion--having read about the choices, I now feel very firm in my decision. But that is another post!!)

In any case, I recommend it without hesitation to my dad and my first sister (who loved poking around at the cadavers in her anatomy lab so much that the next semester she TA-ed for the class)... I don't know who else I'd recommend it to, because it's just not a book for everybody...however if you are fascinated by bodies and or science, and don't get to queasy over unbodied beating hearts, freshly guillotined heads, body snatchers, or decomposition in general, then by all means go for it!


Christa said...

I must say that when I was in my CNA classes in high school, I was fascinated by the morgue. We walked past it everyday on our way through the tunnel to the nursing home. I remember the door being open one day and I snuck a peek. If I were to go into the medical field again, that's what I would want to do.
On a different note, my friend wants to be made into a diamond when she dies, which is cool in some ways, and odd in others. What would people do with the diamond? I don't think anyone would wear it, can you imagine people saying oh what a lovely ring! "Oh thank you, it's my mom!" LOL

Elizabeth said...

I read that book, I enjoyed it. I don't know why, but I find forensic stuff interesting (I've read some stuff about the Body Farm too).

Brooke said...

Sounds like an interesting book!! I've always wondered about embalming... I mean, what's the point??
As for the previous comment, a diamond???? I didn't know THAT was an option!! I might wear a loved one as a diamond :) Not that I wear jewelry...

Janeen said...

The diamond thing is where they take the ashes and use this process to make the ashes into a diamond. It's INSANELY expensive, I think $8000.

Anyway, as far as the book goes, probably not for me. lol I've watched CSI but that's about enough for me. Bad enough I saw some of the photos from my BIL's autopsy. That didn't do me too well. Then again, that may have been because he had been murdered and I had happened to be there when it happened so it brought back some pretty bad memories.

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