Book Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, New York:W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2003. Shelly Fraiser, narrator.

I was twelve or thirteen, making my younger cousin seven or eight, when we saw our first cadaver. It was not the first time I saw a dead body, although maybe it was hers. My uncle, my cousin’s dad, had just begun his training in physical therapy and among his first year courses was gross anatomy–cadaver lab and all. He thought it would be good to expose us to the wonderful world of science and he brought us along on occasion to look at the dissected corpses. Half a decade later or so, I was a senior in high school in an anatomy and physiology course. The school being owned by a university, we were privileged to have weekly cadaver labs too. We studied the various systems of the body, and once, while helping a friend review the muscles of the shoulder, one of those said muscles slipped out of my hands, into a puddle of who-knows-what, which splashed into my eye. Yuck.

These fairly early life experiences with the dissecting of the dead, perhaps with the thought that the topic is tangentially related to my current profession, are the only reason I can think of as to why this (audio)book not only jumped out at me as I was browsing an on-line library collection, but also led me to immediately download it to my phone and go for a run just so I could begin to listen to it. You can only imagine the faces I was making as those passing by surely thought “she’s not running hard enough for it to hurt that bad.”

For the most part, I thought the book was fascinating. “Cadavers are our superheros” is one of the lines early in the book. Indeed they are. Based on my already mentioned personal experience, I knew about human bodies used for medical students learning anatomy. But who knew how many other ways bodies are used?

You can read the rest of this review here.

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