The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Book - 2003 | 1st ed.
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Baker & Taylor
A look inside the world of forensics examines the use of human cadavers in a wide range of endeavors, including research into new surgical procedures, space exploration, and a Tennessee human decay research facility.

Norton Pub
"One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year....Gross, educational, and unexpectedly sidesplitting."—Entertainment Weekly
Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries—from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

Book News
From medicinal mummies to cadaver models for crash-test dummies, a San Francisco writer presents a well-researched, lively dissection of offbeat ways that the dead have served the living and treats medical and ethical issues. Not a life or death matter, but a spell checker/editor missed the use of "piece" for "peace" (p.150). Annotation (c) Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton, c2003.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780393050936
Characteristics: 303 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.


From Library Staff

Mary Roach is often funny, and always interesting. I always knew bodies were used for medical studies, but there are so many other ways to be useful after you are dead! After reading this book, I am reassured that my decision to donate my body to science after my death was the right one.

List - On Death
Beaverton_BethG Mar 23, 2019

Roach explores the different paths bodies can take after death.

From the critics

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Apr 08, 2021

It was so fascinating to read about all these different uses for a cadaver! I had never really thought of it before beyond donating organs, so this was an interesting eye opener for what else is out there. A couple chapters made me uncomfortable, though surprisingly not the ones that describe the decay lol, so that brought it down a bit, but for the most part this book kept me fully engaged. I love learning random facts like these! Plus there was humour thrown in to keep you from thinking morbid thoughts lol

Oct 16, 2020

Definitely recommended, both for educational value and also, at times, humor. Small caveat--at times, not optimal for reading while eating!😉

Dec 29, 2019

Unusual prompt

Sep 03, 2019

This is the first book that's failed my 50 page test. Usually, if I read fifty I'll finish the book.

But the details. If you can stomach them, read the book. Otherwise...

Dec 17, 2018

The book is fantastic for nursing students. The book is written with fluidity and comes full circle at the end. I give it a 10 out of 10!! I'll be looking for a sequel

Nov 28, 2018

I loved this book so much! I am not a huge fan of nonfiction, but this one blew me away. Mary Roach's snarky and honest approach to the science of death keeps you wanting more. In fact, I have read or listened to all of her novels since! Do yourself a favor and try any of her books out. Word of warning, though for this title: don't read it while eating anything...

Aug 26, 2018

This was the Washington State University common reading book of 2008-2009. It is truly a great read! However, be warned, it can be a bit... gruesome.

Jul 23, 2018

Entertaining book on a macabre subject & who used cadavers as in investigating tool from medical students doctors, military officers, aircraft investigator(?), to automobile makers. Nice chapters on trying to verify cannibalism in news stories & what author's opinion on how author's last wishes after looking at all the alternatives disappointing various people wanting her body for science or for profit (Infamous Bodyworks exhibit).

Jul 07, 2018

Mary Roach managed to present normally uncomfortable information in an interesting way that didn’t feel wrong. It’s a tough topic, but she added humor so as to not drag down the entire book, and it worked in my opinion. How society treats and uses the dead after they pass is something that can’t be ignored or minimized, and it’s a worthwhile read to understand the history of it and where the future could take us.

KungFuAndrew Apr 30, 2018

Unlike most of the reviewers here (and the people I know who've read it), I didn't care for Stiff. In case you care, here's a few reasons why:
- Lots of stories of animal cruelty in the name of science - that might have been tolerable if she just didn't talk about everything in such a "fun" manner, making jokes & wisecracks all along the way. Sometimes you need to be serious.
- She went off topic often, talking about all manner of things that didn't pertain to the book, perhaps she needed filler. And when she stayed on topic, it seemed like all the stories were so similar - there's only so many things you can write about cadavers, I guess. A long magazine article would have been more concise and more interesting.
- I love humorous books, but didn't like her style of humor - she seemed like one of those smart ass kids you knew growing up, always saying something for a laugh even if it didn't get one. But perhaps you'll enjoy it if you like "funny" footnotes and anecdotes about farting and pooping and penises.
Watch where you step!

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Jan 29, 2013

funny and engaging. a terrific overview of the life (?) of a corpse. from crash dummy, to being on display as a plastinated piece of art in a museum to helping forensic anthropologists determine rate of decay . we all die, we all end as corpses. sometimes even dead we have a life!

nftaussig Sep 05, 2012

Mary Roach, a journalist, describes various ways cadavers are used or have been used historically. In a series of sketches, Roach visits sites where cadavers are used, describes what she witnesses, and interviews the people who work with cadavers. She discusses the use of cadvers by surgeons who wish to improve their techniques without harming a patient; how cadavers have been procured historically, including a discussion of medical colleges relying on body snatchers; the decay process of cadavers and its use in forensics; the use of cadavers to test safety features in cars; how cadavers are used to determine the cause of airplane accidents; the use of cadavers to determine the impact of bullets and bombs; the use of cadavers by scholars interested in crucifixion; organ donation; the possibility of head transplants; cannibalism; various methods of disposing of dead bodies. In the final chapter, the author muses about how she would like her own body to be disposed.


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nftaussig Sep 05, 2012

nftaussig thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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mvkramer Jul 12, 2016

Other: The only chapter that really disturbed me was the one about Soviet head-transplant experiments on dogs. Yeesh. Trigger warning for animal cruelty and mad science.


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