Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
by Mary Roach
So I'll be the first to admit -- the cover alone almost kept me from reading this book. I hate feet. Like, hate them. Loathe entirely. But my curiosity won out in the end, and I was pleasantly surprised.
For a book about what happens to human bodies after death, this was weirdly funny. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, and then feeling slightly guilty. Roach approaches the subject with a wry appreciation for what is sometimes ridiculous, i.e. the crazy notions that people had about bodily functions in the dark ages or the unsettling cult-like practices of some overzealous environmentalists, and I appreciated how she kept the subject matter from being too depressing.
The book covers a wide range of "uses" for the body after death - from cremation to composting (yes, there are people who want to do that) to organ donation and medical research - and it's fascinating.
I think the most unsettling passage in the book deals with her visit to a bonafide body farm in Georgia. Body farms are places where medical research teams place un-embalmed bodies into a natural outdoor habitat and just...wait and see what happens. It makes a Halloween haunted cornfield walk sound like child's play. Roach doesn't shy away from describing all the sights, sounds, and smells that accompany her visit, and I learned pretty quickly that eating while reading this book was going to be a major no-no.
I guess what I really took away from this is that we, as humans, have a very hard time separating the notion of the soul from the body, but in reality - the body is just a shell after the soul has departed. It should be treated with respect, but we must keep the inner essence of a person separate from their physical housing.
So all in all, this isn't a book for the squeamish, but it was an extremely interesting read.