Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review Friday: Stiff



I was enthusing about Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (by Mary Roach) to a co-worker last night, and realised it'd be a great book to talk about here.

First, a little background. Mary Roach's gift as an author is to investigate complicated topics with a combination of humor, thoughtfulness, and curiosity that makes for a wonderfully readable and informative book. Makes sense, when you realise that she's tackled what happens to donated cadaver bodies after death, sexual physiology, the practical complications of spaceflight, and  the question of ghosts, the afterlife, and things like near-death experiences.

What I like most about her books, really, is that sense of curiosity - of being willing to ask questions and explore topics that are so often not talked about in our society. I learn something new from reading her books in every chapter. The other thing I like is how she goes and talks to people, rather than just theorising from her own experience, or synthesising reading. Those things are good, don't get me wrong - but it's even more interesting to see her interactions with passionate ghost hunters, mediums, and scientists.


Stiff is her first book. In it, she explores how plastic surgeons and reconstructive surgeons use cadavers to learn critical skills, a great deal about forensics, crash-testing cars, testing how to survive minefield explosions, and the question of what happens at the moment of death. While that sounds deeply gruesome to many people, she handles the topic with a decided amount of delicacy. Her writing leaves you aware of the people involved in a compassionate way, while also being clear about the science and pragmatic results of the research. It's an unlikely but very readable and informative combination.

Highly recommended - and I recommend her other titles, as well, though you'll need to request them from other libraries.

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