Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers


In Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach explores different uses for cadavers in the modern world. Uses such as creating standards for car crash dummies, practicing surgical techniques, and documenting the decomposition process for use in crime investigation. She also throws in quite a bit of miscellaneous historical facts and personal asides. In the chapter on car crash dummies, she wrote about the use of cadavers to discover how cars can be made safer. In talking about concussions and protecting the brain, she writes:

Despite forgiving windshields and knobless, padded dashboards, brain damage is still the major culprit in car crash fatalities. Very often, the bang to the head isn’t all that severe. It’s the combination of banging into something and whipping it in one direction and then rapidly back at high speeds (rotation, this is called) that tends to cause serious brain damage. (p. 89)

So here’s my confession- I actually didn’t quite finish this book. I had checked it out from the library on a whim, (I listened to a podcast with the author years ago) and took my time reading it. Several chapters I found fascinating, such as the chapters on car crash dummies, organ removal and cremation. The author’s writing style was a little distracting as she offered personal opinions as often as she could, but perhaps she did that to help distract the reader from the potential gruesomeness of the subject.

Who would I recommend this book to? Someone with a super curious mind who isn’t easily disturbed by dead bodies or frank discussions about crucifixion and body parts.