Mary Roach grew up in a small house in Etna, New Hampshire. She graduated from Wesleyan in 1981, and then
moved out to San Francisco s. She spent a few years working as a
freelance copy editor before landing a half-time PR job at the SF Zoo. During that time she wrote freelance articles for the local newspaper's Sunday
Though she mostly focuses on writing books, she writes the occasional magazine piece. These have run in Outside, National Geographic, New Scientist, Wired, and The New York Times Magazine, as well as many others. A 1995 article of herse called "How to Win at Germ Warfare" was a National Magazine Award Finalist, and in 1996, her article on earthquake-proof bamboo houses took the Engineering Journalism Award in the general interest magazine category. Mary Roach also reviews books for The New York Times.
Her first book, Stiff, was an offshoot of a column she wrote for Salon.com. Her other books include Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.
Mary Roach's website
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Questions for Mary Roach, author of Stiff
What got you interested in the "lives" of human cadavers in
the first place?
One day I was talking to a man who designs crash test dummies. He told me that actual humans--both living and dead--have also been used by automotive safety researchers. He explained that you not only need to know how much force an impact is unleashing on a body (dummies tell you that); you also need to know what kind of damage that much force will cause to an actual body. And for anything other than very minor impacts, you would want that body to be dead.
Anyway, I began to realize there's this whole work force of donated cadavers out there, being put through their paces in labs and universities. Like any new and foreign world, it was fascinating to me and I wanted to know more.
What was the creepiest place you visited during your research?
I visited a lab where plastic surgeons were practicing new techniques. I remember walking in, and there were these 40 heads, set up in pans on tabletops, all in a row. Your brain doesn't really know what to do with this. Mine chose to pretend we...
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