Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stiff by Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers is highly entertaining and very informative. Similar to her most recent work, Bonk, every couple pages there is some interesting fact presented in Stiff. They range from the clinically esoteric to a tad grusome, so this is not for people that have trouble with issues of death, dying and body parts. Yet, I should say, the book is not horrific, gory or insensitive. In fact, I found it relaxing as there was no major argument being presented, just a series of things which make you think “Oh, that’s interesting” or “I had often wondered about that.” It was also decently amusing.

A small fraction of the very many things I learned:
- One of the key motivations behind grave robbing was to make money by selling to corpses to anatomists.
- The myriad things that could happen when a body is donated to science.
- The ethical concerns of scientists working with donated bodies or parts.
- The usage of human crash test dummies. I had never thought about this because I have always seen the constructed ones in simulated car crashes and what not. Of course, to know what happens to the constructed dummy is not entirely useful if one does not know how certain impacts affect human parts. Consequently, human bodies/parts are used to learn the limit of certain impacts (i.e., how much pressure a rib cage can withstand before something breaks?).
- What happens during and after a body is embalmed, cremated or put into the ground
- Would a nail tear through a hand? (like the supposed Jesus)
- The process of brain donation and how it works.
- That the soul does not weigh 21 grams (not that I ever thought it did).
- That there have actually been experiments that successfully, albeit very briefly, grafted a monkey’s or dog’s head onto another monkey or dog.
- That you are going to die. I knew this already too, but it was a useful reminder. You cannot escape it and pretty much nothing good happens to your body after you die no matter what you do; all the more reason to get busy living.

In summation, go read this book.


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