Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Version: Unabridged
Author: Mary Roach
Narrator: Shelly Frasier
Genres: History, Science & Technology
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Published In: September 2003
# of Units: 7 CDs
Length: 8 hours, 4 minutes
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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.

"Uproariously funny ...informative and respectful...irreverent and witty...impossible to put down." ~ Publishers Weekly

"Not grisly but inspiring, this work considers the many valuable scientific uses of the body after death." ~ Library Journal

"One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year." ~ Entertainment Weekly

New York Times National Best-Seller

Reviews (15)

Written by Stephen L. on January 25th, 2020

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Well done and entertaining.


Written by Dee A. on November 7th, 2019

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Wonderfully entertaining

Written by Paige M. on June 5th, 2018

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Mary Roach has written a masterpiece! A semi-serious topic with a humerus (haha) side - I laughed out loud (which had more than one person regretting asking me what I was laughing about...). If you're on the squeamish side, this book may not be for you. Mary brings us through the history of cadaver use. Discusses the rather grotesque past (and perhaps current) use of body parts. Offers recipes (please don't try these in my kitchen), and even discusses religious aspects of cadaver use. All the thumbs up.

Written by Chris Wolak on May 30th, 2014

  • Book Rating: 4/5

I've been meaning to read this book for a long time. It's a fascinating look at all the things that happen to the human body after we die and all the odd and sometimes disgusting things that have been done to and with human corpses. The narrator was pitch perfect for the content--her dry, sarcastic tone was delightful.

Written by sofia aguilar on September 20th, 2013

  • Book Rating: 5/5

I must give 5 stars...This book was recommended to my nursing class by the instructor. I have the hard copy and am now downloading the audio. I loved reading the book twice! The author was quite funny, I hope the narrator's going to be good at capturing her unique humor.


Written by Liz B on September 6th, 2011

  • Book Rating: 5/5

I don't read a lot of nonfiction so it has to be pretty good to hold my interest all the way through. I was disappointed when this book ended. I have since purchased several copies to loan out to friends and family with an enthusiastic recommendation. Although the subject matter may seem a bit gruesome, just as it starts to get gross the author manages to shift gears. Her style is very cheeky and keeps a heavy subject matter as light as it could be. The reader is also excellent as she clearly connected with the writing style.


Written by Anonymous on August 23rd, 2009

  • Book Rating: 4/5

The first half of the book was hilarious and interesting. The second half got a bit slow, but still was worth finishing.

Hope you like cadaver stories!

Written by Gary from Summerfield, FL on September 14th, 2006

  • Book Rating: 2/5

I tried & tried but just couldn't get into it. I listened to the first 5 Cd's & finally gave up. A full book about cadavers was more than I could endure.

Mortifying.....In A Good Way

Written by Texas Reader on August 21st, 2006

  • Book Rating: 4/5

Okay, this wasn't the best book about death or forensics (if you want that go with Michael Baden's Unnatural Death), although it had a smattering of both. However, this was an interesting read complete with body liquifying, dead head plastic surgery, 1001 cadaver uses and even body mulching. The occasional puns mostly bring chuckles if not belly laughs. What Mary Roach does best is put a perspective on cadavers as what they are. Dead tissue. She makes a good, if not strong, case for the use of cadavers in experimentation and testing elements that might benefit those of us left behind. If she's true to her word, she'll offer up her corpse when she's gone. Indicating in the very least that she believes in what she's sharing. The narration was captivating and spot on.


Written by Lari Tonti on August 31st, 2005

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Great book, OK, a couple of times i wondered what the heck am i listening to, but just then the author would explain why she was going there, and i just followed and enjoyed. Very informative and entertaining. Go for it,,,

Author Details

Author Details

Roach, Mary

Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. She lives in Oakland, California.