Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Stiff- The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers


Today's nonfiction post is on Stiff- The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. It is 303 pages long including a bibliography and is published by W. W. Norton. The cover has feet with the toe tag having the title on it. The intended reader is someone who is curious about what we do and have done with human bodies and is adult. There is some language, graphic content, and no sex in this book. The story is told from Roach's point of view mixing with history of death and dying. There Be Spoilers Ahead.
From the dust jacket- An Oddly Compelling, Often Hilarious Exploration of the Strange Lives of Our Bodies Postmortem.
For two thousand years, cadavers- some willing, some unwilling- have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They helped test France's first guillotines, answering the question, “Is the severed head aware of its circumstances, however momentarily?” They helped evaluate the army's new rifles in 1904, standing as targets before researchers' guns. They've ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWS Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there, alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet, understated way.
In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries- from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human-decay research facility at the University of Tennessee (a.k.a the “Body Farm”), a plastic surgery practice lab, and a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on the utopian future of human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

Review- I wanted to like this book. I wanted to read a quirky book about the history of cadavers and how we humans deal with death. This book is that but it is not at the same time. Roach does talk about the history of funeral techniques which I liked and was interested in. Then she will go off on a tangent about searching for someone who may have done something strange or illegal with a dead body but as I was reading those many tangents I could tell that she was looking for urban myths. Then the detail that she goes into about things that have nothing to do with dead people but someone's sick actions in life. There is one footnote that still turns my stomach but it has nothing to do with the dead. It has to do with some other things that one person who was a founder in medicine but it did not add to the overall narrative. In fact because of tangents like that one I am never going to read Roach again. I did not enjoy this book or this author.
I give this book One Star out of Five. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from my local library.