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Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers (2004)

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2004)
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4.05 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0393324826 (ISBN13: 9780393324822)
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English
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w. w. norton & company
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Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cad...
Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers (2004)

About book: Never have my Western morals, pre-conceptions and beliefs been more challenged than when reading Stiff. No one wants to consider their own mortality and make any arrangements for the afterlives of their bodies. Being confronted with the cold hard reality of nature, science and history of death was an uncomfortable, disgusting and enlightening experience. Those of a delicate disposition and strong religious belief will find this a particularly difficult and offensive read. But honestly, they should suck it up and read it anyway, hopefully with an open mind. My views were unexpectedly changed on quite a few issues. Nothing was as clear-cut and simple as I assumed they would be. I share Roach's feelings towards cadavers: ’Cadavers are our superheroes: They brave fire without flinching, withstand falls from tall buildings and head-on car crashes into walls. You can fire a gun at them or run a speedboat over their legs, and it will not faze them. Their heads can be removed with no deleterious effect. They can be in six places at once.’Cadavers can be:✺ Used to train doctors. Historically, and currently, controversial. I was surprised by how much respect is shown by students to their cadavers, and I can completely understand why they hold memorial services for them as an emotional outlet for how disturbing it is to injure and deliberately disfigure another (albeit dead) human being. Digital anatomy instruction and/or plastination (I’ll explain later) may replace the dissection of the dead.✺ Stolen from their graves and sold to medical schools. Thousands of body-snatchers or Resurrectionists (hehe!) made a career out of it, including the infamous murderers, Burke and Hare.✺ Sex objects, i.e. necrophilia. Self-explanatory, that, eh? *wink, wink*✺ Used to study decay on body farms, where cadavers are placed in controlled conditions and left to decompose, returning at pre-determined intervals to examine the results, which can later be used to determine cause and time of death.✺ Embalmed. The ultimate plastic surgery, turning the old youthful once again. Morticians actually have to paint wrinkles on the elderly so their relations can recognise them. Morticians sanitize the body, plug the orifices ("Will we be suturing the anus?") and replace the fluids with formaldehyde, a toxic preservative. Much the same is done with the language used to describe their ‘clients’. Wrinkles are ‘facial markings’, a stiff is the ‘decedent’. ✺ Used to test safety as crash test dummies, improving vehicle safety and ultimately saving lives as a result.✺ Used to determine the cause of plane crashes. Not all wreckage is recoverable and sometimes only the dead can tell you how and why a plane crashed. This chapter was particularly interesting, detailing many facts about the aerospace industry you really don't want to know if you ever want to fly again.✺ Used to prove or disprove Jesus's crucifixion. Forgive me, but I believe Dr. Pierre Babet was batshit crazy. To put it more mildly, fanatically religious, obsessed devoted to Catholicism, and didn't much care about the people whose limbs he was cutting off, for perhaps mild injuries, to further his quest for the ultimate, undeniable proof that Christ was wrapped in the, now defunct, Shroud of Turin in 1931. If he did indeed amputate healthy limbs, it was uncalled for. No lives were hanging in the balance. So, for once, I can, while reading this book, definitively say that I would be sickened if this was so.✺ Used to test munitions, though it’s taboo. The purpose is to take lives in order save lives. Ballistics gelatine and animals are the more common targets. The shooting and blowing up of live pigs and other animals for the training of military doctors, is also controversial. But which would you prefer: dead soldiers and alive pigs, or alive soldiers and dead pigs? I think if you had family and friends in the armed forces you’d rather those pigs die. Honestly, I was horrified when I heard about this practice on the news and yet after reading this, I completely understand why it's necessary. If there were no guns or bombs, surgeons wouldn't need these skills in the first place.✺ Organ donors. Beating-heart cadavers are brain-dead (i.e. legally dead). On the one hand, one person can save many lives. Alternatively, the actual process is quite upsetting. Organs are removed while the donor still has a pulse, including the heart, which is the last to be cut out, and continues to beat ominously afterwards, for a few minutes. Although gender can be discerned from an ECG by a heart surgeon as they beat slightly differently, contrary to popular belief, transplant recipients do not begin to exhibit traits of their donor’s. A wildly inaccurate myth.✺ Used to experiment with new surgical techniques. Head transplants have been attempted, both with humans and animals. Real-life Frankenstein here, people. Both disturbing and grotesque. I’m not religious, but even I was throwing out words like ‘unnatural’ and ‘barbaric’ while reading the various experiments. Shockingly, a transplanted monkey head was responsive for a few days before it died. Yes, it’s most definitely cruel, though I took Roach’s point that if a way was found to reattach the spinal column/cord, paralysis could be a thing of the past. Still, this head will only ever know one body and will hopefully remain attached until body and brain are decomposing.✺ Used for food, i.e. cannibalism. Alive aside, this practice generally isn’t acceptable in the West in current times, apart from the placenta. Historically, and in the East, almost every body part was ingested in the name of medicine. Chinese women used to cut off a body part and cook it for their mother-in-laws. Today, the Chinese still find aborted human foetuses a delicacy. I really want to judge them for this, but wild animals eat their dead. Nothing’s wasted. Personally, I’d be worried about kuru, the incurable degenerative neurological disorder contracted via cannibalism. Roach details the options for your body after death: (Click table to enlarge)Plastination, developed by Gunther von Hagens (you may have been to one of his exhibits or seen one of his TV shows), seems rather gimmicky to me and possibly expensive, though Roach never says how much it costs. For me, the tissue digestion seems the most 'natural', but I won't be surprised if human compost becomes popular since Roach notes the interest of the general public, many investors and funeral corporations, especially in Scandinavia. However, in the final chapter, I was swayed by the argument that it should be up to those you've left behind to decide what happens to your corpse. Or at least a compromise on what you're all most comfortable with to avoid conflicting moral or religious belief. That's if you have that conversation at all. Many don't, at least not in any real detail.But there's another possibility. Even if you choose a traditional burial, future archealogists may dig up your bones hundreds of years from now and decide to display them in museums around the world. Not much you can do about that. And as I said in the table, a number of cemeteries have been moved or built over, so "your final resting place" may not actually be your final resting place. And in a world with finite resources, including the ever-decreasing acres of land in the face of rampant population growth, showing no signs of slowing, this is the most likely scenario. Better to pick something more permanent, if you ask me, or your naked skeleton could be eyeballed by your descendants, without your permission. Informed consent is a tricky thing. In ye olde times, doctors and students took advantage of the poor and while performing surgery on them, did a little unnecessary exploration resulting in 'gratuitous pelvic exams' and 'superfluous appendectomies'. Donated cadavers were so rare that body snatchers were more likely to steal the bodies of the poor because the rich had the money to employ thief prevention techniques. Today, people want to know what will be done to their bodies when they donate it to science, and we should have that right, but the reality is so off-putting that you won't be told. You can only specify what it can't be used for.Roach really takes a sympathetic approach to those that work with cadavers. You can tell she had real difficulty in the first few chapters, coming to terms with her first-hand experiences with the decaying and dismantled dead. Her humour isn't particularly humorous in those moments, because she's clearly uncomfortable and doesn't quite know how to process or write about them. I sympathised. Reading it was discomfiting, being there ... I'm not sure I could've merely observed as Roach did, without running screaming or vomiting my breakfast, especially while smelling the foul stench of decay. I'm fairly certain I could never watch the removal of organs from the beating-heart cadaver. The way it's described, it's too much akin to killing someone, even though you know they're brain dead and will never wake up. It's hard to be judgmental when the author presents a balanced view on all topics. My initial gut reaction regarding a few things was most definitely disgust and horror, but after Roach told the other side of the story, I found some tolerance and understanding beneath the abhorrence. So if you go in with an open mind, you'll be rewarded.I urge everyone to read this book, and to seriously consider the issues therein. It may help you decide what you want to happen to your body after you die. Anything that makes a difficult decision a little easier, is a good thing. An essential, thought-provoking and educational read.

Arabic/English Reviewالكتاب أقل ما يقال عنه أنه تحفة بكل المقاييسالموضوع من أغرب و أعجب المواضيع التي لم أقرأ عنها أبدا من قبلتقرأ عن استخدامات الجثث في علوم التصادم و في علم التحلل و في تجارب زراعة الرأس ؟؟!!هل سمعت عن زرع الرأس ؟؟ هل سمعت عن نقل دم من الجثث ؟؟هل سمعت عن كلب برأسين , أحدهما مزروع ؟؟هل سمعت عن الصلب من أجل التجارب الطبية و العلمية ؟؟هل سمعت عن استخدام الجثث من أجل التسميد ؟؟ هل سمعت عن تجفيف الجثث من الماء ؟؟لا تتعجب أبدا فهذا أقل ما ستقرأ عنه في هذا الكتاب__________________________________I really, really enjoyed this book , I found it fascinating in all waysStiff is a very interesting read for those interested in what happens when you donate your body to science, softened somewhat by Roach's sense of humorA set of stories about how science uses corpses in a variety of ways including the study of impacts for the auto industry, how a brain-dead woman’s organs are removed by a transplant team, and a field of bodies left to rot for forensic research. We also get an overview of how science has used or misused bodies to advance both legitimate research and outright quackery in the past. There’s also a long section reflecting on the best way to dispose of human remains since traditional burials and cremations are costly, environmentally harmful and wasteful.__________________________________We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.=============================I find the dead easier to be around than the dying . They are not in pain,not afraid of death. There are no awkward silences and conversations that dance around the obvious.=============================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 aand 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.=============================We abide the surgeon's scalpel to save our own lives, our loved ones' lives, but not to save a stranger's life.=============================Whether buried, burnt, snatched, dissected or decomposed, some people have been more useful dead than alive.
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Reviews
Jill
Stiff, by Mary Roach, is a book about human cadavers and the curious situations they find themselves in. Well, they didn't find themselves in any situation. They are dead bodies. But Mary Roach found them and this book is the result.While reading this book I paused at halfway and actually asked myself if I wanted to bother finishing it. I have never found myself asking myself this before. I usually stick it out to the bloody, gruesome end. This book, however, just was not interesting. It was not the hilarious screamfest that I was promised on Amazon reviews. It did not take me into worlds that I had yet to explore. It was simply this: a disappointment.I had heard much about this book before I plucked it off the shelf at Barnes and Noble. It came highly recommended by MeFites and I had seen it referenced many different places around the internet. My first impression was that the author was a periodicals journalist trying to write a book. Each chapter is its own article, at least until she starts weakly trying to tie them together by adding things like, "But in the next chapter, we see how dead bodies really do push up daisies," at the end of chapters. Clearly an afterthought.Also, it may be due to the success of the book when it was initially published, but it just seems to me that almost every topic covered in the book has been recently covered on television or in magazines. Perhaps I read about these things in college. I certainly don't seek out interesting tidbits about cadavers, yet somehow, from somewhere, I was familiar with almost every chapter's subject. This book is not funny. I cannot imagine anyone laughing out loud to this book. It's not that I can't laugh at death or dead people or the situations, it's just that the author tries too hard. The humor is forced. It's not natural. It's like she spent hours trying to describe a lab tech in a funny way. It falls flat. Additionally, the author inserts herself into the action and records her own interviews, including awkward attempts at humor with very serious people. It just makes you cringe and you almost feel embarrassed for her.The end of the book couldn't have come fast enough. Toward the end, she morbidly tries to top each chapter with more disgusting details, more gross descriptions and more sick and twisted happenings. It begins to overpower the little bit of grace and dignity the book started out with. It's almost as if the publishers realized this, because odd, tiny rants about the dignity of deceased persons and the way people handle them are awkwardly inserted into the text. It gets repetitive.In the end, I just plain didn't enjoy this book. The author and her injected awkward humor and odd opinions annoyed me. The book seemed unpolished. Nothing seemed new and different about it. It was just a disappointment.
Dan Schwent
Mary Roach writes about what happens when you donate your body to science. Hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity but it is a good dose of edutainment.Way back around the time the earth's crust cooled and life spread across the planet, late 1994 or early 1995, I should think, I visited a chiropractic college with the rest of my Advanced Biology class. This trip was memorable to me for three reasons:1) It was the first time I experienced an excruciating caffeine withdrawal headache2) It was the first time I saw a human cadaver3) I smoked five of my classmates playing pool in the student lounge at lunch.Obviously, #2 is the one pertinent to this review, although I am still quite proud of #3. The cadaver I saw had its face covered and its skin looked shriveled, somewhat like beef jerky. My 17 year old mind briefly wondered where the man had come from before my hormone-fueled brain returned my attention to the nubile young ladies in the room. Anyway, let's get down to review business.Mary Roach manages to take a subject that give many people the heebie-jeebies, donating one's remains to science, and makes it humorous at times. She covers such topics as learning surgical techniques via practicing on cadavers, human decomposition, ingesting human remains for medicinal purpose, using corpses in car crash tests, using cadavers for ballistics tests, crucifixion experiments, and even head transplants.While it's not ideal meal-time reading, I didn't find it as stomach churning as some reviewers did. The talk of decomposition and quack remedies of the Middle ages were fascinating and I was really interested in the head and brain transplant experiments. Frankenstein's monster doesn't seem as unrealistic as it did yesterday.Apparently, necrophilia is only illegal in 16 states. Imagine if that was one of your criteria when choosing a place to live. "Honey, I'd love to live in Florida but then we couldn't have our sexy parties..."Actually, the funeral bits were also pretty enlightening. Did you know they have to suture the anus shut to keep nastiness from leaking out during a funeral? Or that dead people can fart from gas trapped in their intestines? Or that they insert special caps underneath the eyelids to keep them from suddenly opening? Fascinating stuff.Stiff is a very interesting read for those interested in what happens when you donate your body to science, softened somewhat by Roach's sense of humor. Three easy stars.
Richard
Opening paragraph: The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much happens, and nothing is expected of you.If you read this book, you will undoubtedly have many "ick" moments (especially in the chapter about eating the dead, but there's also that footnote about necrophilia on page 43...), but you should have even more laugh-out-loud moment, and maybe a few bemuse-the-other-bus-riders when you groan and laugh simultaneously, especially if they see the cover of the book.Roach as a writer delights in the subtle twist creeping into the prose, the textual double-take. An excellent example is the first paragraph of Chapter Three: 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.Isn't it splendid the way she paints the bucolic scene, so typical of an introductory paragraph? Almost like the copy for a university marketing brochure. And then... you remember what this book is about.Roach does occasionally rein in her curiosity, but only with an effort, and only after telling us where she almost took us. By that point, we are usually grateful for the mercy.It is easy to imagine her as a child running into the house with a handful of squirming worms asking Mom "Are these good for eating? They tickle your tongue! I saw birds feeding them to their babies! Can I feed them to my little sister?"I think Mary Roach makes the world a more lively place, and I'm glad she writes this stuff. But don't read this book while eating, especially not rice crispies or chicken soup.
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