Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach
I really enjoyed this book. Yes, there were some really gross parts, but the book was framed in humor. Lots of information my 12 year old son would call "disgustingly cool".
I learned that when you decide you’re going to “donate your body to science”, there are a lot of places you can end up. Your head could end up in a practice session for plastic surgeons. ( “Gosh, I couldn’t afford a nose job when I was alive, now I get one for free”). Or, I could end up in an anatomy lab where first year medical students learn there way around the human body. I guess the students are having memorial services for their cadavers these days. To thank them for services rendered. Or, my personal favorite and stomach-turner: you could end up being a resident on the “body farm” at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. This is a place where cadavers are left in all sorts of states, conditions etc to allow forensic experts to interpret a crime scene. So bodies are stuffed into car trunks, tossed into a pond, wrapped up in a Hefty trash bag, etc. Then they are “checked” periodically so time after death can be correlated with the events of decay: bloating, maggots (two kinds!!), liquefaction, etc. Fascinating. I was reading this on the bus one day and got a bit queasy. I’m sure it was the motion of the bus.
The book goes on to give juicy details about things I’ve always wondered about like but were kind of afraid to ask: how does embalming work, how long does it last, why is cremation on the increase, why might it soon be on the decrease (a new method can now be used to dissolve your body so you go down the drain. Really.) Then there’s the part about trying to communicate with freshly guillotined heads. One appeared to respond for a few seconds AFTER being separated from his body. This was back when people were trying to decide if the soul was in the brain or the heart. I think they were trying to prove that since the head “responded”, that’s where the soul resided, although one presumes it left a few seconds later. The book doesn’t say where it went. Or the Soviet scientist who was working on head transplants. Apparently successful with a dog, humans didn’t work out so well. I’m trying to imagine this dog in obedience class……….
All things considered (and this author considers a lot!), Stiff is a fascinating read with a lot of dark humor. If you want to prove you are tough, read it while you are eating. Bon appetit!