Friday, December 06, 2013

Audiobook Review: Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

~~Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach~~

Completion Date: December 5, 2013
Reason for Reading: Fun!
Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.

In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries—from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.
Description taken from

Well, finally. After not finishing a single book in November I have finished two so far in December. I am not entirely sure what is up with my reading year. If I hadn't started listening to audiobooks this year I would have hardly read anything at all. I had been listening to Stiff on audio since the end of October. It took me so long to listen not because I didn't like it, but because I primarily listen to audiobooks on the treadmill and it took a while to get organized enough to get back to using it. Hopefully now I can work on some of the audiobooks I have been wanting to listen to!

On to Stiff. I have heard nothing but good things about Mary Roach. At one point I even started reading this book on my tablet, but for some reason never finished. I can't even remember when that was, but I do remember that I was enjoying her writing style. After I finished the first Amelia Peabody book on audio in October I went to Twitter looking for recommendations and this was one I received. I had all ready picked it up somewhere along the line, so I bumped it up my TBR. And, I am so glad that I did! Mary Roach writes like she is telling you a story even if it is non-fiction about dead people. This meant that it worked really well as an audio. And, it was fascinating which I didn't expect to ever say about a book about cadavers.

Roach explores different aspects of the dead community and breaks it into chapters. She also travelled around the world as part of her research and touches on both the historical practices and more modern examples. This means you get a bit of a background about where we have started from and where we find ourselves now. I actually know a bit about ancient burial practices because of my love of history, but I learned a lot about new practices. I had no idea there were so many options when I filled out my health card saying that I wanted to be a donor. If Canada is anything like the U.S. in its practices, you can be crash test dummies, science experiments, practice aids, etc. There was even a look at a class of plastic surgeons practising on heads from cadavers. When I think of being a donor I always thought it was basically if there was anything useful, your organs and such would go to help other people. Apparently this is a much broader idea.

I was impressed by how interesting Roach makes what could be a boring and dry subject. She interjects humour and personal experiences. The only scene I didn't enjoy on audio was when she was talking about maggots. Strangely enough that was the only time I felt a bit ill and this whole book was about cutting people up, decomposing, and other not so pleasant thoughts. It could have been a bit too much, but not with Roach's approach. And, it's a bit different from the general non-fiction you find out there. All of her books look to be.

Overall I really enjoyed my first experience with Mary Roach. I look forward to more!

Strongly Recommended! 

Thoughts on the Audio: This audio is narrated by Shelly Frasier. I really liked her! As I said above the book is written like Roach is telling a story. You could easily picture Frasier as Roach telling you all about dead bodies. It worked really well and she has a very easy voice to listen to. It was definitely a good coupling and I look forward to listening to Frasier again in the future.

Source: Audiobook via


  1. In spite of the subject matter, Stiff sounds fascinating. Yeah, I have trouble with maggots, too, but the rest sounds like an involving read. I'm a donor, too, and had no idea of the possibilities!

  2. I listened to Stiff as well! I will now believe that Roach has a somewhat southern accent. Such a great book, albeit, somewhat gross. I'm reading Packing for Mars now but I wish I had it on audiobook.

  3. I listened to Stiff as well! I will now believe that Roach has a somewhat southern accent. Such a great book, albeit, somewhat gross. I'm reading Packing for Mars now but I wish I had it on audiobook.

  4. I'm not terribly into Audio books but I bought this in print not too long ago. I love the topic! I'm anxious to get too it but I've got a couple of non-fiction I've promised I'd read first before the treating myself.

  5. I didn't know the author but I'm very curious. Now that I listen to audiobooks I'm finishing more books so there is a chance I can start this one before 2014 ;)

  6. To me that sounds really interesting. I suppose it's no wonder my husband thinks I'm weird. lol

  7. Oh it has been way too long that I've been wanting to read Mary Roach and not reading her. Why can't I take a hint from the blogosphere? I'm going to put her on the docket for Long Awaited Reads Month.

  8. I've heard good things about Roach too but I'm just not sure that's a subject I want to explore.

  9. Unfortunately Roach doesn't seem to make it out here very often. I usually like the sound of her books but they are not in the library system here at all.

    Did you like the Amelia Peabody audio? I listened to one years ago and thought that Barbara Rosenblat was an awesome narrator. Perfect for that series.

  10. Thanks for sharing about this one because I have been looking for more audiobooks to try. And I have been really wanting to try some nonfiction so I think that I shall request this one from the library. Great review!

  11. I think I remember an interview with her on the radio after this book came out - she was hilarious, and I put it on my list but never have gotten around to it. I'll have to try the audio - sounds like fun!

  12. Ooh, I have this on my shelf and the library has it as an audiobook edition. I'll try and read it next year - I'm sure I'll get to it with the way my commute is going!

  13. I loved this book when I read it! It was so hilarious. I was one of those annoying readers who had to share tidbits from the book with whoever was near me at the moment, which made work more fun for the few days during my lunch hour.

    I tried listening to Bonk to her most recently and was bored to tears. The narrator just didn't work for me. I may go back to try to read the book at a later date. I really enjoyed the other two books by her I read. I think I have another on audio, but may read it if it's the same narrator as the one for Bonk.


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