Friday, August 08, 2008

"Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach (pub. W. W. Norton & Company 2003)

I recently read Mary Roach's book, "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife," and was impressed by the way the author not only could explain the science of death and dying but that she did it with great wit. I mean there were times while reading the book I would catch myself laughing out loud, and have to look around and make sure no one thought I was a bit crazy. But no one did...or at least none that would admit it. Anyway, after that treat of non-fiction, educational but in a fun way, book I had to go back and read her earlier book, I was not let down. This book provided the learn something new but have some laughs along the way fun that I've now come to expect from Mary Roach.

Keep in mind she does look at this in a fun way, but in no way does Mary Roach make fun of the dead or dying. Humor with class and education is the best way to describe what is in this book.

In "Stiff:..." Mary Roach examines the many things that happen after a person ceases being a person. Mostly these people have donated their bodies for research, but in the past it was not always that way. So not only is there a bit of exploring what a cadaver is expected to go through, Mary Roach also gives a bit of a history lesson on the dead.

I think this book is best summed up with a list of the chapters, so here's a list of the chapters.

1. A Head Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Practicing surgery on the dead
2. Crimes of Anatomy: Body snatching and other sordid tales from the dawn of human dissection
3. Life After Death: On human decay and what can be done about it
4. Dead Man Driving: Human crash test dummies and the ghastly, necessary science of impact tolerance
5. Beyond the Black Box: When the bodies of the passengers must tell the story of a crash
6. The Cadaver Who Joined the Army: The sticky ethics of bullets and bombs
7. Holy Cadaver: The crucifixion experiments
8. How to Know if You're Dead: Beating-heart cadavers, live burial, and the scientific search for the soul
9. Just a Head: Decapitation, reanimation, and the human head transplant
10. Eat Me: Medicinal cannibalism and the case of the human dumplings
11. Out of the Fire, into the Compost Bin: And other new ways to end up
12. Remains of the Author: Will she or won't she?

As you can see lots of interesting subjects and each chapter more informative and entertaining than the previous. Keep in mind this book is not for the squeamish. I will have to say that the book as a huge squirm factor, by that I mean if you , like me, have a hard time listening to very descriptive discussions about body parts and cutting into same and squirm around in your seat when you hear or read such, you'll be squirming throughout this book. However, I found the book very fascinating, informative and yes entertaining so I squirmed but read on.

Seriously you know you're in for some squirming when the book opens up with:

"The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had the occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan. But here are forty of them, one per pan, resting face-up on what looks to be a small pet-food bowl. The heads are for plastic surgeons, two per head, to practice on...."

After this book I've decided I'm still not sure about what to do with my body after I'm done with it. I do support the "harvesting" of my organs but for the rest, i'm thinking seriously about the composting idea. (read chapter 11)

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