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Stiff

The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Narrated by: Shelly Frasier
Length: 8 hrs
Categories: Non-fiction, Medicine
4.5 out of 5 stars (147 ratings)

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Editor reviews

Mary Roach unzips the body bag and tells us far more than we thought we wanted to know about what happens to our bodies after we pass away. And yet somehow, she makes you want to know even more. It's like watching something repulsive but fascinating through cracks in the fingers you placed over your eyes so you wouldn't see. The author takes a deliberately humorous, academic tone as she describes these fascinating atrocities, and Shelly Frasier mirrors the author's tone perfectly. That very dry humor pervades the entire book; never cynical or condescending, never adolescent or tasteless, and it makes what could be a ghastly, repellent subject surprisingly upbeat and entertaining. Despite all that, we can't recommend that you listen to this audio book with a bunch of 11- or 12-year-old girls in the car with you, unless you enjoy hearing "Eeeew - gross!" squealed in a high-pitched voice over and over again. To some, that would be a fate worse than...well, death.

Summary

An oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem.

For two thousand years, cadavers (some willingly, some unwittingly) have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, 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 TWA 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 way.

In this fascinating, ennobling 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 in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

©2003 Mary Roach (P)2003 Tantor Media, Inc.

Critic reviews

  • Alex Award Winner, 2004

"Uproariously funny....informative and respectful...irreverent and witty....impossible to put down." (Publishers Weekly)
"Not grisly but inspiring, this work considers the many valuable scientific uses of the body after death." (Library Journal)
"One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year." (Entertainment Weekly)

What members say

Average customer ratings

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This is so cool!

I love learning new things and finding out how things work. This is no exception!

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Inclusive, welcoming writing from Mary Roach

I bought this based on previously enjoying Packing for Mars (one of my favourite audio books). Unlike Packing for Mars, this book is more of a mixture of history and culture with a light dip in to science and it does not suffer for it.
The narrator reads beautifully and the words are engaging.
A highly recommended audio book for anyone who is not too squeemish.

1 person found this helpful

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Really good read

A great book, would highly recommended to anyone with a morbid curiosity like myself. It was informative without being too disgusting or disrespectful, if you weren't instantly put-off by the description you'll probably be fine. In terms of performance it was really well read and easy to follow.

1 person found this helpful

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Really enjoyed

What did you like most about Stiff?

I liked the way the author questioned the reality of the human corpse and how this vessel can serve a new purpose after the should has left it.

Who was your favorite character and why?

No favorite character but I did like the report on the plastic surgeons and how they perceived these cadavers.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

No scene but I found it interesting the disposal of bodies and how aviation has used corpses to improve issues of safety

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I think it would be the plastic surgeons and the humanity that they share with the dead person that they are practising upon.

Any additional comments?

I really enjoyed the book and the narration, well worth a purchase

3 people found this helpful

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brilliant stuff

Fascinating, well read and thoroughly entertaining. The narrator is a joy to listen to. Be warned; this will have you laughing out loud.

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Infinitely better than Blue Peter

I had no idea I could be so handy as a cadaver. Down to earth, warm yet still sensitive and respectful of the subject matter. I highly recommend

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loved this book, so sad when I finished it.

Not for the faint hearted. Mary Roach asks the questions you really want to know and then some.

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Loved this

I absolutely loved this book
and was occasionally horrified by it. Maggots are not my thing, even if you call them hacienda.

This might be my book for Popsugar prompt 2: A debut novel, as it was Roach's first.

What a fascinating journey through the options for your body once you no longer need it. The waste of a body going into the ground or up in smoke has always disturbed me, so I was ready for this book. There are so many way better ways to use the flesh no longer needed by you once you have died---so so many better uses.

This book is probably the only example of Edutainment I have ever really found. Other productions claim to be, but this is the real deal. I laughed, I grimaced and I learnt. Roach is funny but also respectful of her topic. She provides the options with little or no judgement - although I was glad to read we share a shiver and shudder when it comes to maggots.

I liked that Roach managed to be respectful of the process of death and those left behind, but felt that once the mortal coil was shuffled off from, it was then no longer the person it was, and shouldn't be treated as though it was. However, she also concedes that the living left behind are the ones who should get to decide what happens to a body for they have to continue living with that decision.

I particularly loved her idea that cadavers are superheros 'Cadavers are our superheroes. They brave fire without flinching, withstand falls from tall buildings and head-on car crashes into walls'

I want my body be a super hero instead of a puff of smoke.

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gory but great

For a factual book the writing style seemed quite chatty and easy to follow which i really enjoyed.
The subject matter was fascinating but quite graphic at times and the narrator was really good and brought the book to life.

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Great start...6/10 for me

The book meets expectations to begin with, it goes through medical history and current use of humans. From there it diverts into a blog/journalism article about the things done with dead bodies around the world.
A book of two halves... I liked the first half, second half was a bit of a disappointment, lest it didn’t meet my expectations so maybe it was really my expectations and the book was fine (?). I’d hoped for a more medical science read, which this wasn’t- sorry.

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  • Joel
  • 28-05-05

Wonderful and En'gross'ing

I wouldn't have thought it possible to treat this sometimes unpleasant topic with equal parts humour and respect. Mary Roach succeeds admirably in both aspects. I listened to this book almost straight through, with my responses ranging from cringing to laughing out loud.
Shelly Frasier is an excellent casting choice for this book as her voice has a sultry tone to it. It is not clinical at all.

Highly recommended if you're not squeamish.

42 people found this helpful

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  • Linda
  • 11-11-12

I worked with cadavers for years, but....

I've worked with cadavers, I've dissected them, taught students from them, studied from them. I've learned to appreciate the incredible gift of body donation. There is NOTHING that can take the place of actual human cadavers for the study of the human body. It was entertaining to hear a non-medical person's point of view and the author's warped sense of humor was for the most part entertaining. I read the paperback book, and then a few years later I listened to the audiobook. The narration was excellent in portraying what I believe to be the authors intended tone and voice, however her constant mispronounced terminology will probably be very distracting at first, if not down-right irritating. After you get used to the mispronouncing of words, the listener can begin to hear the tale. BUT WARNING, this book is not for the weak at heart. The author uses graphic descriptions of how human bodies have been used to further knowledge of medical science, automobile safety, organ transplantation and even effectiveness of bullet proof vests worn by our armed forces. At first the jovial tone of the book seemed disrespectful since as a student I was warned that any conversation that was inappropriate or disrespectful of my cadaver would earn me a failing grade and dismissal from the course. I suspect the cavalier, jovial tone of writing is what makes the subject palatable for the layman.
All in all, an excellent book with great information that will hopefully change people's mind on the importance of organ donation and how critical body donation is to science. As people come to understand this,perhaps doors will open and opposition will end so that more studies can be done to increase our knowledge base. Perhaps some may even consider personally donating their body to science.

36 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Matthew
  • 15-03-04

Darn funny if you're open to the idea.

If you believe the subject of cadavers should be treated somberly under all circumstances, you'll want to take a pass on this one. If, on the other hand, you have an irreverent sense of humor and believe that there some sort of humor in almost every slice of life (and death), then you're going to love this book. Informative, well-written, witty, and done in a mostly tasteful way (it is about cadavers after all), Stiff is a fresh book that explores a topic and a world that most of us never glimpse.

60 people found this helpful

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  • Mark
  • 17-11-11

Who Knew?

Not for the faint of heart, this book examines in detail possible uses and methods of handling the human body a life after death I had never considered. The author deftly hanbles the subject with surprising humor. The narrator was excellent.

I enjoyed this book.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Shannon
  • 23-04-08

Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it

Although this book verges on the macabre at some points, with extremely graphic descriptions of, say, bodies rotting in an empty lot, I found it fascinating. I liked the many uses for cadavers, the descriptions of the science of various specialities, and the history of anatomical and cadaver studies. The author has a quirky sense of humor, and many of her quips are things I would have thought myself. I also liked the narrator's voice, which was pleasant and not too serious. Unfortunately, neither the narrator nor the producer ensured that the narrator pronounced all the words correctly. Almost every chapter had at least one mispronunciation that jarred me. Among them "Oriana Fal-ah-see" (Oriana Fallaci - which I admit is not a common name), "Rooters" (Reuters), and "apokethary" (apothecary - which she pronounces correctly a few lines later.) This book has by far the largest number of mispronunciations of the seventy or so I've listened to. It is nonetheless an interesting, informative and strangely enjoyable listen.

27 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • J. N. Bowling
  • 23-03-09

You cut heads off! You cut heads off!!

Funniest non-fiction I've ever read! This is a fantastic read. To those who criticized the "unnecessary" gruesomeness... it's about dead people!! Come on!! The author does a fine job respectfully making light of something people are way to squeamish about. I highly recommend this book. It was a fun read, and educational at the same time - just the sort for which I was looking.

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Joshua
  • 11-08-05

A superb read

I highly recommend this book. I couldn't stop listening. It is a serious book about a serious subject, but it does lighten the darker, if at times, horrific elements of being the dearly departed. Shelly Frasier does a good job of transmitting the author's sense of humor and life--and does not telegraph a "cynical" point of view; rather she captures the dark, sometimes humorous, sometimes bizarre and often ironic issues related to death which, after all, is everyone's fate.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • California Rose
  • 04-06-08

facinating

When I was a student, in 1984, I took a summer class in which I prepared cadavers for the next semester's anatomy and physiology class. It was one of the best summer's of my life. Those memories will carry me to my grave, so to speak. One of the cadavers that I worked on was a physician (in his former life), one was a woman, and one was a man of no particular distinction. I am now a nurse of some 24 years. My experiences then still reverberate to this day. This book addresses all of the feelings and emotions that I experienced at that time. It is an amazing, humorous, light-hearted, yet serious work, that captured the essence of what it means to be a cadaver. No small feat. Bravo, Mary Roach. Well done.

34 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Julie
  • 20-04-04

This is a light, wonderful book.

The author is incredibly witty and clever. She writes like an old friend sharing a funny store with you in a coffee shop. I've bought it for 2 friends already, and the feedback from them has been just as positive as my experience with it.

17 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Clint
  • 20-04-04

Great book!

This was actually a very interesting and well researched book & and was generally a lot of fun to listen to. The reader was fantastic, too. Her "smoky" voice was compelling, without being overly dramatic. Be prepared, though, for the stories of brutality that some (I hope not many) "scientists" (and I use the word loosely, at least with some of them as described here)brutalized (and still brutalize, I know) defenseless animals, in the name of "science". The people that I am describing truly, in my opinion, have cold hearts and no empathy for other living things. The book, as a whole, was top notch and very enlightening. The "experiments" are just part of the story, I guess.
Overall, I highly endorse this audiobook.

25 people found this helpful