Stiff is not only one of the most enthralling books I have read in a long time, but also one of the funniest. Which is not exactly what you would expect from a book about cadavers. But with this book, Roach joins the ranks of those science writers who have become personal heroes of mine with their ability to explain complex concepts in such a way that even a dolt like me can understand them.
I have always been fascinated by the workings of the body (you can't stumble through a Master's in Physiology without some level of enthusiasm), and have never been particularly squeamish about the processes of decomposition. But even if you are bothered by the engrossing details of decay or by the thought of injury analysis of the human wreckage that is sometimes required to piece together the details of an air crash, I guarantee that you will be fascinated by the lengthy history of body snatching for the purposes of human dissection, by bizarre tales of medical cannibalism, and by a litany of attempts at human head transplantation.
Roach looks at the use of cadavers in medical school anatomy classes and as practice tools for plastic surgeons, as volunteers in body farms to pinpoint decomposition times and factors for crime analysis, at the use of body parts in crash injury studies and in ballistics and bomb analyses, and she ponders the concept of the human soul and the issues that arise in brain death.
Who knew that dead people led such busy and intriguing lives?
Did I mention that Stiff is hilarious? Somehow Roach manages to bring real laugh out loud humour to the subject, while still treating the deceased with dignity and compassion.
Personally I cannot wait to read Mary Roach's other books - Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.