Funny, smart, entertaining and mildly titillating without being smutty, Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex easily made my top ten list back in 2010. Oddly enough, even though I thoroughly enjoyed her book, I made no effort whatsoever to read any of her other books like Packing For Mars or Spook. Well, say no more. About a month ago while strolling down the shelves at my public library what did I find but a slightly battered trade edition of her first book Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. Remembering how much I enjoyed Bonk I eagerly grabbed Stiff and added it to my little clutch of library books under my arm. Later that evening I cracked open Stiff and began reading it. And much to my relief I was NOT disappointed. Just as I would expect from a book by Roach, her 2003 effort makes for funny and intellectually stimulating reading. Even though it deals with the somewhat sensitive subject of human remains, it’s never disturbing or gross.
Much like she did with Bonk, Roach crisscrossed the map spending time with and interviewing a diverse and quirky host of subject matter experts. From the University of Tennessee’s “body farm” to anatomy labs and all the way to a back country crematorium on China’s Hainan Island, Roach recalls her many meetings and adventures with a droll sense of humor. She also digs into the past, examining at length the various experiments done in the 19th century by French scientists on the guillotined heads of executed criminals. Roach closes her book with a look at cannibalism throughout history, including rare instances of “medicinal” cannibalism from medieval China and the Middle East.
After thoroughly enjoying Stiff, I’m now in the mood for her later books Packing for Mars and Spook. As I’ve come to expect from Mary Roach, her book Stiff never ceases to entertain and educate. Highly recommended.