Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Have you read this?

This is not your typical summer read, I know, but if you're interested in how things work and you're not too squeamish, I recommend adding Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach to your summer reading list.

From the first autopsies in the time of King Ptolemy I of Egypt in 300 B.C., to the once-living crash test dummies of the present day, in Stiff, Mary Roach examines what happens to our bodies after we die. Sometimes bizarre, often inspiring, and always fascinating, these true accounts of the 2,000 year history of the human cadaver and how it has impacted scientific discovery are told with wit and compassion.

My husband recommended it to me a few years ago, and, after listening to him laugh his way through his second reading of it, I gave it a go. I have to tell you, in these stories, dead people are fun!

Just look at a few of the chapter headings:
  • A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Practicing surgery on the dead
  • Dead Man Driving: Human crash test dummies and the ghastly, necessary science of impact tolerance
  • The Cadaver Who Joined the Army: The sticky ethics of bullets and bombs
  • How to Know if You're Dead: Beating heart cadavers, live burial, and the scientific search for the soul
Stiff was published in 2003, but I've read it twice now, a few years apart, and Ms. Roach's treatment of this delicate subject is a masterful balance of humor and respect that never goes out of fashion. It is wonderfully written and backed by impeccable research. I know I'll revisit it again and again.

If this looks like something you'd like to read (and maybe talk about) head over to the 3rd floor Readers' Services desk at the library. We'll be talking about Stiff at the next Thursday Evening Book Discussion - July 8 at 7:30 PM in the Heritage Room. Sign up and pick up a copy of the book.

Other books by Mary Roach:


Linda K. said...

My sister, Laura, loves to gross me out with forensics. Patricia Cornwell's "Body Farm" is the kind of book she likes. In fact, she's talked about leaving her body to an actual body farm for research. So "Stiff" is probably right up her alley. She also loved "Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners" by Alan Emmins. Since I also liked Stiff and Mop Men I guess things just don't gross me out anymore. Oh no, I'm becoming like my sister! Ewwwww!

Karen said...

Read "Spook," haven't read "Stiff." I like her style of writing. With "Spook," I felt like she deliberately set up situations that would prove her point, but for a believer in any kind of afterlife, it's sort of beyond the point of "proving." Nevertheless, very entertaining, humorous and engaging.

Gus said...

I loved Stiff! I wish I could have been at the discussion, but oh well. As Karen said above, Mary Roach's style is very witty and definitely engaging. The first few lines of Stiff had me hooked. Looking forward to reading her others, as I'm a major science geek and interested in the paranormal; maybe my lovely wife will bring them home from the library for me...

Marebare said...

I think I introduced you to this one :) YAY!

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