Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Review: "Stiff" by Mary Roach

Allow me to introduce you to Mary Roach. She was born in New Hampshire. Moved to San Francisco after college, and has written five books covering topics from the afterlife to sexual physiology to space exploration. One might think, from that list, that her books might be long, boring scientific studies. But, when those topics are looked at through Roach's eyes, they become gems worth reading.

Let's start with a book that I recently finished called Stiff. It was Roach's first book, released in 2003. For 2,000 years, cadavers -- some willingly, some unwittingly -- have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. Stiff is an oddly compelling, and often hilarious exploration into the strange lives of our bodies postmortem.

Stiff is very entertaining, and I have to admit, that I have never been afraid of dying until after reading this book. Not so much because of the mysteries of the unknown, but more because I fear what someone might do with my body once I'm gone. Roach gives the reader an amusing look at what can happen when you donate your body to science. She visits a garden where cadavers lay out in the sun all day, not to get a tan, but to trace the rate of decay on a human body. She meets cadavers used in crash tests for automobiles. Dissection in medical school anatomy classes is about the least bizarre of situation you can imagine.

One of the things, and there are many, that I love about Stiff is the way Roach provides the facts in a matter-of-fact way, and then brings relief from what could be a very macabre topic with her singular sense of humor. Just when you think that the details are getting a little too much to take, Roach welcomes the reader back to reality with a little comic relief.

This is one of those books that you end up reading to your friends just because you found some interesting, and often, bizarre fact that you simply can't keep to yourself. When you first hear about the topic, some readers may shy away with the thought that it might be too graphic, but trust me, it is well worth reading.

If you're looking for something a little different, and perhaps a bit unusual to read this year, I'd highly recommend Stiff.

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