Stiff is a moderate-sized novel that categorizes the various (strange) uses for human cadavers. Some details can be a little gruesome but the book’s subtitle, “The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” should’ve hinted to that; and Mary does a fantastic job of weaving humor and humanity into each and every story she tells. Her ability to speak about the use of human bodies for scientific research while simultaneously emphasizing the fact each of these bodies once held the thoughts, dreams, and feelings of a human being inside of them is pretty remarkable and certainly speaks to her talent as an author.
Mary Roach has quite a few books penned to her name and they are on a wide variety of topics from life on Mars and human warfare to sex and the afterlife. Her area of literary preference is referred to as “popular science and humor” on Wikipedia but I think that fails to include her unique perspective on the role humanity plays in all the fields of research she has studied. All in all, she’s a really good writer and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.
I found the book incredibly interesting at first but a little more than halfway through the book, I had to put it down. The stories became slightly redundant and I am very easily bored. When I picked it up again a couple months later, I flew through the second half with just as much speed and interest as I had started it with. Overall, I think the book is incredibly well written and focuses on such a niche topic that if you’re looking for something to read on a subject you probably have very little knowledge about, it’s a perfect choice. I would also recommend that you assess the strength of your stomach before opening it up. While no details are vomit-inducing to my taste, it certainly could make you a little nauseous if you have a sensitive stomach. Still, Mary is careful to prepare the reader for anything that is overly grotesque and occasionally recommends the faint of heart skip the next page (or chapter) if the topic has become potentially triggering (or even topical). I’d probably give it a 6.5 only because I couldn’t read it through in one shot but to be fair, I rarely can do that anyways.
As I said before, I’m looking forward to reading more of Mary’s books. I’ve had a recently developing interest in space-related novels, especially those that include “hard science”, like The Martian, which I hope to include on this blog soon. Until then, I may look into her Mars novel Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.
What are your favorite science-based novels (non-fiction or fantasy)? Let me know in the comments or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.