Excerpt from Stiff by Mary Roach, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Stiff

The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary Roach

Stiff
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2003, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2004, 304 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


What I found hardest to get used to this past year was not the bodies I saw, but the reactions of people who asked me to tell them about my book. People want to be excited for you when they hear you are writing a book; they want to have something nice to say. A book about dead bodies is a conversational curve ball. It's all well and good to write an article about corpses, but a 200-page book plants a red flag on your character. We knew Mary was quirky, but now we're wondering if she's, you know, okay. I experienced a moment last summer, at the check-out desk at the medical school library at the University of California, San Francisco, that sums up what it is like to write a book about cadavers. A young man was looking at the computer record of the books under my name: The Principles and Practice of Embalming, The Chemistry of Death, Gunshot Injuries. He looked at the book I now wished to check out: Proceedings of The 9th Stapp Car Crash Conference. He didn't say anything, but he didn't need to. It was all there in his glance. Often, when I checked out a book, I expected to be questioned. Why do you want this book? What are you up to? What kind of person are you?

They never asked, so I never told them. But I'll tell you now. I'm a curious person. Like all journalists, I'm a voyeur. I write about what I find fascinating. I used to write about travel. I traveled to escape the known and the ordinary. The longer I did this, the further afield I had to go. By the time I found myself in Antarctica for the third time, I began to search closer at hand. I began to look for the foreign lands between the cracks. Science was one such land. Science involving the dead was particularly foreign and strange and, in its repellent way, enticing. The places I traveled to this past year were not as beautiful as Antarctica, but they were as strange and interesting and, I hope, as worthwhile sharing.


From the chapter "Eat Me," about medicinal cannibalism:

In the grand bazaars of twelfth-century Arabia, it was occasionally possible, if you knew where to look and you had a lot of cash and a tote bag you didn't care about, to procure an item known as mellified man. The verb "to mellify" comes from the Latin for honey, mel. Mellified man was dead human remains steeped in honey. Its other name was "human mummy confection," though this is misleading, for, unlike other honey-steeped Middle Eastern confections, this one did not get served for dessert. One administered it topically and, I am sorry to say, orally as medicine.



From the chapter "Life After Death," about forensics and embalming:

Out behind the University of Tennessee Medical center is a lovely, forested grove with squirrels leaping in the branches of hickory trees and birds calling and patches of green grass where people lie on their backs in the sun, or sometimes in the shade, depending on where the researchers put them.

This pleasant Knoxville hillside is a field research facility, the only one in the world dedicated to the study of human decay. The people lying in the sun are dead.

-----

An eye cap is a simple ten-cent piece of plastic. It is slightly larger than a contact lens, less flexible, and considerably less comfortable. The plastic is repeatedly lanced through, so that small, sharp spurs stick up from its surface. The spurs work on the same principle as those steel spikes that threaten Severe Tire Damage on behalf of rental car companies: The eyelid will come down over an eye cap, but, once closed, will not easily open back up. Eye caps were invented by a mortician to help dead people keep their eyes shut.

There have been times this morning when I wished that someone had outfitted me with a pair of eye caps. I've been standing around, eyelids up, in the basement embalming room of the San Francisco College of Mortuary Science.

From Stiff by Mary Roach. Copyright 2003 Mary Roach, all rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher W.W. Norton, or the author.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Book That Matters Most
    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers appreciated the innovative structure of The Book That Matters ...
  • Book Jacket: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    by Scott Stambach
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers were uniformly impressed by this difficult yet heartwarming ...
  • Book Jacket: Boy Erased
    Boy Erased
    by Garrard Conley
    Growing up in rural Arkansas, Garrard Conley did not quite fit the mold of his strait-laced, ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    by Scott Stambach

    "An auspicious, gut-wrenching, wonderful debut." - Kirkus, starred review

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
    by Bryn Greenwood

    A memorable coming-of-age tale about loyalty, defiance, and the power of love.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
This Must Be the Place
by Maggie O'Farrell

An irresistible love story for fans of Beautiful Ruins and Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Lady Cop Makes Trouble

The Kopp Sisters Return!

One of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs returns in another gripping adventure based on fact.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Manners M (T) M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.