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Life of the Dead: Mary Roach's Novel on Cadaver Contributions

Follow us through the uncomfortable yet intriguing journey of a cadaver as we read, review, and honor Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach as our June summer read.

We care for our bodies throughout life, but have you ever wondered where your cadaver goes after death? Author Mary Roach who specializes in popular science attempts to answer these queries in her New York Times bestseller, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Whether you're a studious third-year medical student or a vacationer looking for a poolside read, Roach approaches profound questions on human existence and the ethics of cadaver use in a lighthearted way that will leave you more appreciative of the life around you. Are you intrigued? Keep scrolling for our quick biography on Mary Roach, book preview, and final thoughts on our June pick for Human Body Digest's Book of the Month.

We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.” - Stiff, Chapter 2

About Mary Roach

Interestingly enough, Mary Roach does not hold a scientific degree. Yet, she is known across the nation as one of the most influential science writers of our time. So how did Roach develop this passion?

Roach began her educational endeavors at Hanover High School in New Hampshire before attending Wesleyan University in 1981, where she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology. By this time, Roach knew she wanted to pursue a career in writing and journalism. She promptly moved to San Francisco, California, where she began working as a freelance copy editor.

Eventually, Roach was able to kick start her writing career by producing press releases on topics such as wart surgery on elephants through the San Francisco Zoological Society. This caught the interest of the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday magazine. Soon enough, Roach would spend her free time writing articles for this source. Once nearing the late 1990s, when magazines became less and less popular, Roach decided to travel down a new path: books.

In 2003, Roach finally published her first book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Her work gained the attention of numerous prestigious organizations and won awards from New York Times, Barnes & Noble, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, and more. In addition, Stiff has been translated into more than 17 languages and is still widely read and discussed amongst literature and science fanatics.

A Preview of this Fascinating Read

This 304-page book is truly an engaging read from cover to cover. Although the novel does discuss some heavy subjects on death and decomposition, it also honors the exceptional scientific contributions of the deceased. Even the variety of Roach's book from chapter to chapter allows the reader to see death from countless dimensions—whether through Roach's perspective during her research or by traveling back in time to learn the historical use of cadavers.

So what kind of topics can you expect to come across within Stiff? While many exist within the book, below are some of the primary subjects covered:

  • The history of human dissection

  • Decomposition of the human body

  • Cosmetic surgery using cadavers

  • Cannibalism

  • Stealing cadavers

  • Cadavers used as crash test dummies

  • Beating heart cadavers and live burials

  • Transplantation

  • Alternatives to cremation and coffin use

Our Lingering Thoughts

This book is the perfect combination of facts, eeriness, and humor. Because there are heavy and sometimes unsettling topics discussed in Stiff, we recommend this novel for mature audiences only. However, Roach is a comforting presence throughout the entire book and makes these topics digestible, enlightening, and even funny at times. Overall, while it is important to focus on living, Roach and her novel Stiff help to satisfy the perpetual and unexplainable human curiosity to understand life after death.


1. BookBrowse, B. B. (n.d.). Mary Roach author interview. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from

2. Roach, M. (2004). Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers. W.W. Norton.

3. Roach, M. (n.d.). Mary Roach Biography. Mary Roach. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from book


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