People have been telling me for two years now that I had to read this book, but I was so put off by the subject matter -- the medical and scientific uses to which human corpses have been put over the years -- that I resisted. Silly me. Stiff turns out to be a charming, tastefully written, and surprisingly funny book, covering a wide range of unexpected ways that cadavers have benefited humanity.
There are the obvious uses, of course -- donation to medical schools for use in anatomy labs or plastic surgery practice sessions; organ donations -- but a host of more offbeat applications as well. Human bodies have been used to calibrate crash-test dummies, crucified to help test the validity of the Shroud of Turin, and even (in less enlightened ages) used to make medicine.
What lies down the road? A Swedish company has been exploring the possibilities of using human bodies in compost heaps; a research facility in Tennessee studies the decay rates of unpreserved bodies as an aid to forensics experts.
Yes, there were moments when I was creeped out, but Roach is well aware of the ookiness of her topic, and she does a marvelous of minimizing the gross-out factor through humor, and honest descriptions of her own reactions when visiting assorted labs and research facilities.
A very pleasant surprise.