Literacy 2023: Book 3: Stiff

A six-feet-deep dive into all the various things that can happen to a dead body

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Roach examines the various ways that human cadavers are used, abused, and disposed of, with topics including organ donation, forensics, crash impact testing, medical studies, cannibalism, decomposition, plus the advantages and disadvantages of having your body composted instead of cremated.


  • Roach has a masterful sense of comedic timing, knowing exactly when to be funny without coming across as flippant, and personal without making herself the focus of the story.
  • Extensively researched, with Roach insisting on going to the source whenever possible, seeing all the gruesome details in person.
  • Stays positive throughout, stressing the importance of organ donation and ecological responsibility, and also allowing people dignity and respect.
  • Full of information I not only never knew, but never even thought about.
  • Frequently made me laugh out loud.


  • Absolutely not for the squeamish. Roach tries to lighten the mood when she senses it’s getting too dark or too grisly, but she also doesn’t flinch at all while describing cadavers being opened up, ripped apart, drained, or allowed to rot.
  • Uses Mehmet Oz as an expert on the topic of organ transplants, presumably long before most people realized just how much of a shameless prick he is.
  • In addition to the gory or grisly descriptions, there are a lot of descriptions of torture, murder, or cannibalism that can upset sensitive readers like myself.

Probably the book that made Roach’s reputation as one of the funniest science writers, and the reputation is well-deserved. I think I would’ve been way too sensitive or squeamish for this material if it hadn’t been for Roach’s confidently funny and often compassionate approach to the subject.