Saturday, March 7, 2009

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (Roach, Mary)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Read again? Yes.

If you're fascinated by medical shows or just want to know what dead people do when they reach the final lay, this is your book!

Did you know that your plastic or reconstructive surgeon can practice on an unembalmed cadaver head in a roasting pan? It's an excellent way to learn the structures one encounters during surgery.

That's just the first chapter. From there we get glimpses (well, descriptions) of cadavers in the 2004 Gross Anatomy lab at the University of California, where students hold memorial services for the dead people they've dissected during the course. Then it's back some 3,000 years to Egypt and mummification, then the University of Tennessee's Medical Center and its body farm. Think of a sunny hillside, birds calling, lush green grass...and dead people in various stages of decomposition scattered about.

Like maggots? Sloughed-off skin? Bad smells? This is your chapter!

We continue with cadavers-as-targets for new Springfield .30-caliber rifles in 1892 to study the difference between stopping (i.e., making him stop shooting at you) and killing (i.e., making him stop shooting at you) the enemy, and why sheep's brains and bears' knees are used instead of humans' these days.

There's the crucifiction--er, crucifixion--angle, a discussion of the shroud, an entire chapter on knowing whether you're dead or not, one on what happens when a head is guillotined (takes 'em a few minutes to stop rolling their eyes and grinding their teeth) or frozen for posterity.

It's creepy, spooky, fun, funny, disturbing as all hell, and definitely worth a read.

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