Summary (from Goodreads):
An oddly compelling, often hilarious forensic 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.
I have been hearing great things about Mary Roach seemingly forever, and I really wanted to read something by her. I chose Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers because it was the only one they had in the library. I had no previous interest on the topic - I've never thought a great deal about death or cadavers, since the whole business seems a bit macabre and gloomy. However, Roach has an incredible ability to inject humor on her narrative without sounding disrespectful.
Stiff is written in a mix of conversational and journalistic style that makes for a fast and easy read, despite the grim subject. It really is informative - I learned a whole lot about the uses of cadavers in medicine, science, and improvement of human safety. It also deals with how different cultures think about death and which are the most popular and shocking ways we use to dispose of our own bodies once we are dead. It got a bit repetitive and considerably less exciting towards the middle, where the subject matter veered off onto better known areas, such as transplants and clinical death.
Of course, such a book includes a certain amount of gore and stomach-turning facts: head transplant experiments, people who want to be crucified, instances of cannibalism... It is absolutely not for the faint-hearted. It also can get you weird looks if you read it in public, and be prepared for some awkward conversations. Roach helps the reader in those difficult chapters since she is also revolted at some of the things she has discovered through her research. I found her voice to be amazing - it reminded me of Lorelai Gilmore from Gilmore Girls, fast-paced, lots of snarky remarks and pop culture references.
I really enjoyed the book. Way more than I had anticipated, so I'll definitely read the rest of her popular science books.
Side Note: I read this book in Spanish and wanted to take my hat off to Alex Gibert, the translator for Stiff, who did the best job with this book.
Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!