Read Remark Book Review - Stiff by Mary Roach

Book Review: Stiff by Mary Roach

The summary for Stiff could easily serve as clickbait. 

“What are scientists doing with your dead grandma? The answer will surprise you!” 

Funny thing is, Stiff actually pays off on that click-baity premise. Mary Roach goes deep into the world of the dead to see the different ways cadavers are handled and disposed. We see the grisly details of embalming, the decomposition, the plastic surgery practice.

But somehow, Roach makes talk of dead bodies delightful. 

She’s careful to take the emotional aspect out of the equation. These aren’t people’s souls. They’re just dead bodies. No memories are being disrespected here.

I can’t help but ponder it on a personal level, though. I decided definitively that I do NOT want to be embalmed when I die. Ew.

Here are 3 interesting Stiff cadaver fun facts (yes, I’m fully aware of the irony and incongruity of that sentence)

  1. One little known experiment involves cadavers, footwear, and landmine explosions. They put the three together to see if the impact of a blast harms a body more or less with certain types of footwear materials. Interestingly relevant, especially for the military. 
  2.  Severed heads may possibly maintain consciousness for a few seconds after choppage. While the science is still developing on this, there are several reports to support the hypothesis.
  3. Cadavers have many interesting, if not somewhat grody, uses; one of which is practice for medical residents. Maybe I can finally get that nose job I’ve been wanting after death. 

Stiff makes me even prouder of my beloved grandma, who donated her body to science when she died. She was always a no-nonsense woman, quietly and matter-of-factly stepping in to help her community where she could. Even after death.

Though some of the experiments shown in the book sound absurd and somewhat gruesome, they all serve a higher intelligence that may help the living. Stiff is not for the squeamish, but highly interesting for the curious. 


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Mary Roach
Published 2004
W.W. Norton Company