“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.”
So begins Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, the hillarious, fascinating, and, yes, sometimes gross new book by Mary Roach.
As Ms. Roach wisely points out, “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.” Fortunately dead bodies have many productive (though often quite bizarre) uses.
Always as respectful as she is informative, Roach takes readers through a riotously funny look at the many uses of dead bodies – including safety research (“Dead Man Driving”), medical experimentation, surgical practice (face-lifts on decapitated human heads), “beating-heart” cadavers used in organ transplants, quantifying rates of decay, methods of disposal (okay, sure but composting?!), grave digging, and of course, that timeless favorite cannibalism.
You won’t be able to put it down, even after reading about her trip to China to find a crematorium that allegedly fills dumplings with human remains.
Don’t worry, Stiff is not a morbid book. As Roach explained to her former colleagues at Salon, “This isn’t a book about death. It’s a book about dead bodies. They’re two very different things.”
And the dumplings probably just taste like chicken.