I've read a couple of other books by Mary Roach with mixed results. In actuality, this was really the one I wanted to read, but I wasn't able to get my hands on it until recently. And actually it was good timing, just a few weeks back I went and saw the Body Worlds exhibit (which is mentioned in this book) and my reaction to it was only a little more uncomfortable than my reaction to this.
those of you who don't know what Body Worlds is, it's an exhibit of
human cadavers that have undergone Plastination and then displayed
around the world. The first reaction is a good five minutes of your
heart going hollow and trying to adjust to what you're seeing. Once
that distance is reached then it becomes very interesting to see the
exhibit and the bodies up close. This book is a lot like that because
it deals with the uses of cadavers throughout history and even now. It
covers such things as organ donation, whole body donation, crast test
dummy research, cadaver cannibalism, and a few other things. Roach
personally attends a lot of the different research facilities and body
donation centers to get a personal look at what happens to the
cadavers. Although she does not try out the cannibalism obviously.
talks to a lot of people in this book for the interviews and research
on cadavers. And everyone was highly respectful of the bodies and their
contributions. It was rather nice to see. Sure some were a bit
strange, but when you're working with the dead it probably draws a
unique sort of people to the field. I'm not sure I could ever work with
dead bodies, I much prefer the living myself, but I admire the people
who can. And even the dead bodies themselves Roach is mostly
respectful. I won't deny that she cracks a few jokes and makes a couple
of odd observations, but with such an uncomfortable topic, it isn't
surprising and it isn't done with any malice.
This isn't a book
of pure research. Roach inserts humor and her own scientific
observations. But I guarantee it's a lot more knowledge about the
subject than the average person would know. I certainly learned a lot.
And it also reinforced my want to donate my body to a body farm when I
die. But it's not for everyone. If you have strict beliefs about
bodies and where they are supposed to go after death due to moral or
religious reasons, you might not appreciate this book too much. And
there were a couple boring parts. For instance, the shroud of turin
chapter didn't interest me at all, and the older uses of bodies I didn't
find as interesting as the modern stuff. There's only so much I can
read about body snatchers taking bodies to anatomy schools before I want
to move on to something else. Largely though this is an interesting
book with a lot of information that was surprising.
This is one
of the better books by Roach that I've read. If she comes out with
another interesting science book, I'll probably read it.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers