"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Friday, November 2, 2012

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary Roach

In honor of Halloween just having finished, I thought a review of this book would be appropriate.  Though it sounds rather gruesome, it is very interesting and quite hysterical.  The author's side notes are almost better than the actual text, because this is where all her random and bizarre comments are made.  A word to the wise however.  I am not a squeamish person in any sense of the word.  Lots of time in the hospital probably got that out of me years ago.  However, this book definitely went into some details that were best left for non-meal time.  But by no means should you avoid it for this reason, just choose your reading time wisely.

I was introduced to this author by the book Packing for Mars, and found it just as entertaining. Whereas that book deals with the very real human details of what it takes to get a person into space (the food, the sanitation, etc.), this book literally details with very human details, as in the remains of a person and what is done with a body after physical death occurs.  Experiments, embalming, burial, investigation, and decay are all covered, but in a way that allows for humor and respect to both have a part of the story.

The ways in which human cadavers have contributed to science is innumerable and amazing.  Medical testing, crash tests, CSI studies, organ transplants, etc. have all led to very real and very important contributions to our way of life.  And cadavers have been a part of all of that.  Of course, many of the ethical questions come into play as well, and Roach discusses many of these, including religious beliefs, grave robbing, etc.

Overall, though it sounds a little disturbing and somewhat gruesome, this book actually gives you a great respect for the human body and its complex design, for science and its discoveries, for those who donate their bodies to science, and to the families that respect these wishes.  Instead of avoiding this topic and feeling it taboo, I love that Roach unveils a stunning landscape of something that is all around us, and just below the skin.  As much as this book is centered around death, it is actually very much about the wonder of life.

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