Mary Roach 'STIFF' Excerpt



Savvy, amusing, Gen Xer woman reports on the secret life of cadavers.

Vocal Characteristics



Voice Age

Middle Aged (35-54)


North American (General)


Note: Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and may contain errors.
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. The brain is shut down. The flesh begins to soften, nothing much new happens and nothing is expected of you. If I were to take a cruise, I would prefer that it be one of those research cruises where the passengers while still spending much of the day lying on their backs with blank minds. Also get to help out with a scientist research project. These cruises take their passengers to unknown, unimagined places. They give folks the chance to do things they wouldn't otherwise get to do. I guess I feel the same way about being a corpse. Why lie around on your back when you can do something new and interesting. Something useful for every surgical procedure developed from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside the surgeons making history in their own quiet, sundered way For 2000 years cadavers, some willingly and some unwittingly have been involved in sciences. Boldest strides and weirdest undertakings, cadavers were around to help test France's first guillotine. The humane alternative to hanging. They were there at the labs of Lenin's and bombers, helping test the latest techniques. They've been there on paper, congressional hearings, helping make the case for mandatory seatbelts. They've written the space shuttle. Okay, pieces of them. They've helped a graduate student in Tennessee. Debunked spontaneous human combustion. Been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test, the authenticity of the shroud of Turin in exchange for their experiences. These cadavers agree to a sizable amount of gore, their dismembered, cut open, rearranged. But here's the thing, they don't endure anything. Cadavers are superheroes. They brave fire without flinching, withstand falls from tall buildings and head on car crashes into walls. You can fire a gun at them or run a speedboat over their legs and it will not faze them. Their heads can be removed with no deleterious effect. They can be in six places at once. I take the superman point of view. What a shame to waste these powers to not use them for the betterment of humankind. This is a book about notable achievements made while dead. There are people long forgotten for their contributions while alive but immortalized in the pages of books and journals. On my wall is a calendar from the mutter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The photograph for october is a piece of human skin marked up with arrows and tears. It was used by surgeons to figure out whether an incision would be less likely to tear if it ran lengthwise or crosswise to me ending up as an exhibit in the mutter Museum or as a skeleton in a medical school classroom is like donating money for a park bench after you're gone. A nice thing to do. A little hit of immortality. This is a book about the sometimes odd, often shocking, always compelling things cadavers have done. Not that there's anything wrong with just lying around on your back in its way rotting is interesting, too. As we'll see, it's just that there are other ways to spend your time as a cadaver.