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

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Stiff

The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary Roach

Stiff by Mary Roach
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2003, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2004, 304 pages

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From the chapter "Dead Man Driving," about human crash-test dummies

By and large, the dead aren't very talented. They can't play water polo, or lace up their boots, or maximize market share. They can't tell a joke, and they can't dance for beans. There is one thing dead people excel at. They're very good at handling pain.

For instance, UM 006. UM 006 is a cadaver who recently journeyed across Detroit from the University of Michigan to the bioengineering lab at Wayne State University. His job, which he will undertake at approximately 7 p.m. tonight, is to be hit in the shoulder with a linear impactor.

From the chapter "How to Know If You're Dead," about beating-heart cadavers and the scientific search for the soul

A patient on the way to surgery travels at twice the speed of a patient on the way to the morgue. Gurneys that ferry the living through hospital corridors move forward in an aura of purpose and push, flanked by caregivers with long strides and set faces, steadying IVs, pumping ambu bags, barreling into double doors. A gurney with a cadaver commands no urgency. It is wheeled by a single person, calmly and with little notice, like a shopping cart.

For this reason, I thought I would be able to tell when the dead woman was wheeled past....

H. is unique in that she is both a dead person and a patient on the way to surgery. She is what's known as a "beating-heart cadaver," alive and well everywhere but her brain.

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.

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