Books you might like, Vol. 3: Stiff, by Mary Roach

stiff cover image

Stiff was a pretty popular book back in its day (2003 or so) so I’m not going to dwell long on its excellence, which you can read about at length on the back cover. However, I will say that it was quite an enjoyable read, and very touching in a strange way. The cadavers Roach describes move, sag, limp and fester in ways that are unexpectedly poignant. They are infused with new life, though Roach is very explicit about separating the medical cadaver and its scientific importance from the human it once was, or, as she likes to call them, the previous owner.

The uses for cadavers are astounding, and go well beyond the gross anatomy lab of first year medical students. Forensic research, organ transplants and car safety are some of the projects that Roach explains throughout. She highlights some fascinating historical medicinal and scientific uses as well. Lots of it is gross, too, of course, but if you’re reading this, I have a pretty good idea that you can take it.

I was just reading about how some medical students are meeting live patients on their first day of school, instead of the cadavers that med schools typically introduce their first-years to. This is no doubt a good thing. But after reading Stiff, I think it sure would be a shame to see the cadavers of the anatomy lab, and the learning and empathy they can promote, not still have their moment in the sun.

Most of the book seems to be available online through Google, so check out the first chapter and see what you think (if you haven’t already).


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