Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

In the book “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,”Mary Roach surveys how corpses have been used in research and experimental leading in the past 2000 years, leading to some of the most consequential innovations in medicine. In many cultures and civilizations, death is concealed in mystery and taboo. Yet, many innovations have resulted from the possibility of using dead bodies for research and experiments. The author interviews morticians and attends autopsies to observe the bodies’ dissection process and believes the work “gives recognition to a group of people who, in death, have propelled human innovation forward (9)”. “Cadavers have been there alongside other procedures such as surgeons, making history in their own quiet, sundered way(9)”. Roach as an author, is a participant in the narrative observations through stiff and engages in historical accounts. The author approaches the topic of death in a literal way, temporal than metaphysical, to create a complex story that illustrates the utility of human corpses, continuity of personhood, and the absurdity of death or which are relevant for science religion, and modern society.

 The author uses captivating heading and subheadings such as a head is a terrible thing to waste, dead man driving, and out of fire into the compost bin to highlight the necessity of using the dead body for research and innovations. The author is forthright with the matter of fact as she indicates ‘”If you are inclined to donate yourself to science, you should not let images of dissection, or dismemberment put you off (82).” The book emphasizes the significant contribution people have when they are dead. She indicates ‘there are people long forgotten for their contribution while alive but immortalized in the pages of books and journals (10)”. There gets to a point where the bodies do not belong to yourself rather to the well-being of humanity. Roach considers cadavers as having the “superpowers” that are necessary for the betterment of humankind (10).

After reading the book Stiff, I have better understood the donation of body organs necessity. I have enjoyed reading to comprehend how cadavers have been significant in many areas, including anatomy and physiology. The author normalizes the cadaver practice. Most of the readings’ chapters are informative. For Roach, the dead body’s “dignity is all in the packaging” and not a mere application, not a well-considered euphemism (275). While the book is informative, the author’s tongue-in-cheek comment approach to the material makes it challenging to understand her intended audience. Other comments seem designed only to achieve laughs, such as “eat me” in a case of cannibalism in a restaurant in Taiwan. 

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Although disgusted by the idea at first, I was disgusted by the cadaver idea because the author disregards the dignity of human beings. Nonetheless, after a substantial reading, I found the idea to be informative and necessary since using the body for other humans’ survival and longevity is supreme compared to any breach of respect for the dead.

The book is essential for modern medicine. The supernatural capacity of the dead allows humans to use them for experiments, ensuring our survival and longevity in most life aspects. Without using the dead for experiments to comprehend how the world works, disciplines such as physiology and anatomy would have been challenging. The use of cadavers for experiments outweighs any potential breaches of respect for the dead. While some use of the cadaver seems immoral in many aspects, such as car crash tests, it nevertheless helps find ways to avoid such events from reoccurrence (44). Overall, I would recommend the book to others. The book is informative and unusual, and I would recommend it to others, whether one is a scholar, a student, or one who wants to learn new things.


Roach, Mary. Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers. WW Norton & Company, 2004.