Joanna Parypinski

Pandora’s Pick of the Week: “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers”


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

By Mary Roach

Background: This nonfiction book was published in 2003 to great acclaim. Okay, #1 I am not normally a fan of nonfiction, and #2 never would I have expected a nonfiction book about the scientific use of cadavers to be “uproariously funny.” But it is. This is my all-time favorite work of nonfiction.

It’s gruesome, shocking, and extremely witty. A great choice for those who are interested in corpses and appreciate dark humor. I mean, come on; the first line is, “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.”

What it’s about: Roach does a lot of hands-on research to find out how, exactly, our dead bodies are being used when we donate them to science. She explores the use of cadavers in medical schools, car crash testing, crucifixion experiments, and even studies in cannibalism and how people decompose. There’s also a nice aside on dumplings filled with human remains from a Chinese crematorium.

Reading this book will teach you more than you ever thought you wanted to know about the crazy things people can do with cadavers, and you might be surprised at how useful you can be to society even after you’re dead.

Why it will keep you up at night: The part I’ll always remember best about this book is the bit about the decomposition study. Apparently studies of this consist of leaving cadavers lying around in various conditions to see how the process works in different situations. Imagine being an experimenter of this, watching someone’s body rot before your eyes. Better (or worse) yet, imagine yourself as the body! Still, Roach’s book won’t deter you from wanting to donate your body to science. The way I see it, once you’re dead, you might as well be useful. And some of the ways they can use you are actually pretty cool!

Read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers now!