Saturday, 11 June 2011

Remains of the Day

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003) by Mary Roach is a delightfully interesting and eerily strange book. From crash test dummies and organ donation, to forensic testing and surgery practice, Roach explores how human cadavers can be used in a variety of ways for research.

While this morbid subject matter could have been presented as dry and purely scientific, Roach's wit and conversational style draw the reader in. Her humour is often welcome relief from the, at times, gory details.

Roach intersects historical information (past acts of grave robbing and body snatching) with modern research needs (face lift practice and air crash investigation). While some parts may make the faint-hearted a bit queasy, such as the chapter on cannibalism, overall it was not as horrific as one might suspect.

The cadavers are all held in high regard by those who research them and by the author. There are touching descriptions of the absolute gratitude researchers have for those who have donated their bodies.

Particularly enjoyable is the way in which Roach herself was part of the story. She gives her point of view and guides the reader through her research, introducing us to doctors and embalmers, researchers and family members.

Entertaining, hilarious, macabre and insightful. You cannot read Stiff without reflecting on what decisions you will make about what happens to your body when you die.

I didn’t know what to expect when I bought this book, but I guess I was curious. I have always said I would donate my organs when I die. Stiff reaffirmed for me the importance of organ donation and other scientific research that can be achieved through the donation of bodies.