Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach [audiobook]

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
$17.95 $17.95
By Mary Roach
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've heard a lot about Mary Roach over the last several years, but hadn't read (or in this case, listened to) her prior works. Since I have resolved to read or listen to more non-fiction titles over the course of 2017, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers seemed like the perfect place to start, and a prime opportunity to finally check out Roach's work.

Stiff may cover material that could be considered morbid by some (appropriately, I suppose), but Roach injects a fair amount of wit into the proceedings. Donating your corpse to science is certainly a noble deed, but you should probably strike out any thoughts of your being key to cancer's cure. The unlife of a cadaver is certainly not glamorous, despite its necessity for science and study.

It hadn't occurred to me that cadavers would be put through so many paces upon a person's expiration, so Stiff presents an eye-opening view of what happens to all those bodies donated to science. While there are plenty of uses for cadavers in medical research (how do you think doctors get so good at performing face lifts?), the auto industry also has a keen interest in determining the safety of their automobiles and how human bodies will be impacted by collisions and car accidents. Forensic research is a must, and fresh bodies make their way to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Body Farm where forensic anthropologists can study decay rates in a variety of settings (buried, exposed, stuffed into car trunks) helpful in crime scenes. And, of course, somebody has to learn, first-hand, how to sew an anus shut so a corpse's fluids don't leak out during a funeral viewing.

Roach relies heavily on field investigation and interviews directly with her sources, in addition to a bevvy of research. The history of obtaining cadavers is a grisly and sordid affair, and Roach covers it all, from body snatching to guillotines and donations, either by law or decree of consent.

There's a lot of information throughout, but it's never dry or boring. Roach is a very engaging and forthright science writer who does not get bogged down in minutiae or lingo, and makes the work entirely accessible to anybody keen on the topic. Shelly's Fraiser's narration further serves the book's accessibility, and she capture's Roach's dry wit quite well. On the production-end, I did note a small hiccup in which the last two minutes of material are repeated after the publisher's final sound-clip (followed by another, different sound clip for advertising another one of Roach's titles).

After reading Stiff, I can certainly understand the popularity Roach's books engender and I'm now planning on listening to several more of her titles over the coming months.

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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