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Stiff (Roach) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Our own instinctive discomfort with death provides fodder for Roach's dry sense of humor throughout the book .
Ana Marie Cox - Washington Post


It's a rare talent that can make people want to throw up and laugh at the same time.
Roy Rivenberg - Los Angeles Times Book Review


Outrageously funny, irreverent"—but respectful....so delightfully written, this book is difficult to put down.
Brian Richard Boylan - Denver Post


"Uproariously funny" doesn't seem a likely description for a book on cadavers. However, Roach, a Salon and Reader's Digest columnist, has done the nearly impossible and written a book as informative and respectful as it is irreverent and witty. From her opening lines ("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"), it is clear that she's taking a unique approach to issues surrounding death. Roach delves into the many productive uses to which cadavers have been put, from medical experimentation to applications in transportation safety research (in a chapter archly called "Dead Man Driving") to work by forensic scientists quantifying rates of decay under a wide array of bizarre circumstances. There are also chapters on cannibalism, including an aside on dumplings allegedly filled with human remains from a Chinese crematorium, methods of disposal (burial, cremation, composting) and "beating-heart" cadavers used in organ transplants. Roach has a fabulous eye and a wonderful voice as she describes such macabre situations as a plastic surgery seminar with doctors practicing face-lifts on decapitated human heads and her trip to China in search of the cannibalistic dumpling makers. Even Roach's digressions and footnotes are captivating, helping to make the book impossible to put down. Agent, Jay Mandel. (Apr.) Forecast: Do we detect a trend to necrophilia? Two years ago it was mummies; in the last few months we have seen an account of the journeys of the corpse of Elmer McCurdy and a defense of undertakers; and now comes Roach's disquisition on cadavers. But death is, after all, a subject that just won't go away.
Publishers Weekly


Roach writes in an insouciant style and displays her metier in tangents about bizarre incidents in pathological history. Death may have the last laugh, but, in the meantime, Roach finds merriment in the macabre. —Gilbert Taylor
Booklist


Despite the irreverent, macabre title, this is a respectful and serious examination of what happens to cadavers, past and present. Salon columnist Roach explains how surgeons and doctors use cadavers donated for research purposes to help the living, and also examines potential new variations on how we bury the dead. She explores some interesting historical side avenues as well: the use of corpses to test the guillotine, earlier anatomical beliefs, grave robbers, the elixirs various civilizations concocted out of corpses for medicinal purposes, and, most important, how cadavers provided valuable information to us for understanding such plane crashes as TWA Flight 800. Roach also addresses philosophical issues. —Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences, RTP, NC
Library Journal


Fascinating, unexpectedly fresh and funny look at the multiplicity of ways in which cadavers benefit the living. Author of the "My Planet" column in Reader s Digest and a regular contributor to Salon.com s "Health and Body" section, Roach displays here a knack for persuading morticians, scientists, engineers, and others whose work involves corpses to let her watch them at their labors. From the opening chapter, in which 40 severed human heads are prepped for a plastic-surgery seminar, to the final one, in which whole bodies are plastinated with liquid polymers for a museum exhibit, she proves herself a keen observer and unflagging questioner. Roach watches an embalming at a college for morticians and visits a university study of human decomposition. She shows the value of cadavers in car-crash testing, in weapons research by the US Army, in investigations into airline disasters, in studies of the crucifixion and the guillotine. Not only do dead bodies provide organ transplants for fellow humans but they may, Roach reports, soon be transformed into compost--at least in ecologically aware Sweden. As for other exotic uses, a chapter subtitled "Medical Cannibalism and the Case of the Human Dumplings" tells it all. While Roach provides a vivid picture of the macabre activities she witnesses, it s her offbeat musings, admissions, and reactions that give such life to her tales of the dead. She also provides history, mostly focusing on body-snatchers and the anatomists who used their services. Roach delights in imparting odd information, such as the fact that 18th-century students at certain Scottish medical schools could pay their tuition in corpses rather than cash, and when the curious factsunearthed by her research don t fit neatly into her narrative, she slips them into droll footnotes. Informative, yes; entertaining, absolutely.
Kirkus Reviews




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