Posted by: Matt | May 11, 2007

Review of Stiff

StiffThis was my first book in the Non-Fiction Five Challenge.

Have you ever wondered what happens to your body after you die? Me neither. But I still found Stiff quite interesting. The author, Mary Roach, takes the reader on a tour of the many places a human cadaver might end up. She describes decay, embalming, organ retrieval, dissection, and everything else you ever wanted to know, or didn’t want to know, about dead bodies. If this all sounds a bit grotesque, well, it is. But it is also fascinating.

I get most of my daily reading done during my lunch hour. Most of this book was read not only during my lunch break, but during the actual eating of my food. I’m not sure why I did this, it wasn’t a very good idea. Maybe I was subconsciously attempting to prove the toughness of my stomach, the power of my appetite. There were a few times when my lunch suddenly seemed a bit unappetizing, I wouldn’t recommend the combination. If you decide to read this book you might want to keep your meals entirely separate from your reading.

Although it gets a tad disgusting at times, Mary Roach does a good job of keeping things light. She has an interesting sense of humor which is evident throughout. You might not think cadavers and humor go well together, but she does an excellent job of mixing up that cocktail. And she’s certainly able to ask questions I would have been too embarrassed or felt too awkward to ask.

The most significant aspect of the book is its ability to make the reader think about what they want done with their body after passing on. Cremation, burial, organ donation, research; all options. This is an excellent resource for those considering different possibilities.  She makes no attempt to persuade the reader to pick one or another.

Admittedly, some will be completely turned off by this books subject, yet I recommend it without reservation.

Rating: 4.0



  1. I’ve seen this book around and am definitely intrigued. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to it, but I’m not terribly squemish about bodily things so I think I could take it

  2. This has been on my wishlist since it came out. I used to work in a funeral home, and take it from me, you want DIRECT CREMATION. I promise, you really do.

  3. Sounds very interesting, Matt. For some reason, books like this one fascinate me and I wish I could explain why. Maybe it’s the intrigue of getting behind those closed doors and finally seeing in great detail what really happens back there…or do I really want to know? What Dewey had to say, above, makes me wonder if I’m best kept in the dark. 🙂

  4. I really enjoyed reading STIFF. True, the 1st chapter was like a “weed out the wimps” chapter. From then on it was either get used to it or give it up. Perseverance paid off – this was an excellent and educational read.

  5. Tara and Sam – The reason I recommended it to everyone, even if the subject matter doesn’t sound like your thing, is that we all will go through death. There’s no avoiding that one, so it’s fascinating to find out what will happen to us, or what can happen to us.

    Dewey – I’ll have to take that into consideration 🙂

    John D. – Yeah, there are definitely some things that you have to get through or just put it back down. I used to want to be a doctor and blood and guts don’t really turn my stomach.

  6. I’d forgotten I’d read this until I saw you review it. One thing that disappointed me a bit, spiritual being that I am, is that she doesn’t deal at all with the ideas of who we are as people vis a vis our corpses except as a bit of a side issue.

    Still, it was a pretty good non-fic read…

    I’ve got Mutants on my TBR shelf. That looks pretty gruesome too!

  7. Sounds interesting. I took a couple Anatomy and Physiology classes a long while back. Especially memorable were the labs. I can still picture the hacked up bodies on the tables. At the time, I think everyone felt it was too surreal, that these pieces couldn’t have belonged to “real” people. We all went about our merry way, poking this or prodding that, and if anyone was squeamish it was more to do with the smell of formeldehyde than the visuals. It didn’t sink in for me until we went upstairs to the hospital cafeteria for lunch afterwards. They were serving huge slabs of roast beef and pork. Did I mention that formeldyde stains muscles a nice grayish brown colour? I had a salad.

    All that aside, I’d definitely pick up that book. Incidently, have you read Jessica Mitford’s “The American Way of Death Revisited”?

  8. Arukiyomi – I have a feeling she didn’t want to much cover that. I think she was trying for a purely “factual” account if you know what I mean.

    John – It’s funny you ask about The American Way of Death Revisited because that book is referenced a few times in Stiff. But I have not read it. I’ll have to look it up.

  9. Hmmm….I don’t really think this is a book for me!! It sounds interesting though!

    At the beginning of the year, I did read Flesh and Bone. It’s a fictional account of “The Body Farm” written by two of the founders. I honestly didn’t even know there WAS a body farm until I read this. It may be ficitonal, but they add a LOT of forensic stuff about bodies.

  10. I really enjoyed reading this one. Like you, I read this one partly during my lunch hour at work. Although that in and of itself didn’t prove to be a problem, me sharing what I was reading as I went with my lunch reading budy at the time might not have been appreciated. LOL She took it very well though, but I don’t think I convinced her the book was worth reading. I am planning to read Spook for the Nonfiction Challenge later this summer. I can’t wait!

  11. I am definitely interested. Currently reading Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: