Stiff offers twisted yet interesting take on corpses

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By: Shireen Korkzan <[email protected]>

You may not care about what happens to your body after you die, but Mary Roach does. This journalist from San Francisco went to find out, providing enough information to create 304 quick-read pages worth of interesting and stunning knowledge on what happens to our bodies postmortem. Her book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, is a humorous approach to the strange happenings of human cadavers and what can be done to them besides the traditional burial or cremation. From learning about the ongoing process of human decay to crucifixion experiments to medical cannibalism, readers will satisfyingly finish the book with learning more about the many possibilities on what to do with a human cadaver than the average person, perhaps a little more than what they had anticipated.

Stiff starts off by explaining various ways dead human heads can help plastic surgeons practice their skills before putting the knife on a living person, such as by performing nose treatments and removing eye cataracts. From there, Roach explains the other good deeds human cadavers have done over the past few centuries, such as the vital and important science of impact tolerance figured out by human crash test dummies, which cannot be figured out by nonhuman dummies due to the lack of bones and cartilage. Roach also explains how the bodies of deceased passengers can be used to tell the stories of crashes (specifically cars and airplanes), decapitation, cadavers who still have beating hearts and much more.

Stiff is well-written, quick and easy to read. Considering Roach used about 130 sources to write Stiff, according to her bibliography at the end of the book, it’s quite obvious that this book is credible. Roach also managed to write about cadavers in a sensitive yet hilarious manner while managing to throw in appropriate yet droll sexual humor that won’t offend many people.

I’ve read plenty of books in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything remotely close to something like Stiff. It’s unique and something not a lot of people really think about on a day-to-day basis. After reading Stiff, I’m now more curious about random topics not many people would normally think about as well as about my surroundings that may affect me in my future, even if I know I won’t be aware of it.

I applaud Roach’s brilliant work. It’s new and fresh (contrary to her topic being about cadavers) and different from most nonfiction works. In an odd sort of way, reading Stiff made me feel more alive than before. Yes, I did like learning about cadavers. However, I’m not quite sure I feel normal anymore after approving the morbid.