An Anatomist’s Take on the Book, Stiff

by Natalie Klempel

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers offers the reader a chance to experience the different aspects of body donation.

There are so many different avenues that a cadaver can end up following body donation that many people do not know about. This book gives wonderful insight into these different aspects. 

As author Mary Roach writes, “Death. It doesn’t have to be boring.”

As an anatomist and someone who is interested in science, this book became one of my favourites. While reading about the different journeys Roach went on to learn about cadavers and what they can be used for, I felt sad that I never even thought about doing something that allowed me to travel and research cadavers in different fields of study. However, Roach’s gifted writing ability brings humour, science, and education into a wonderful book that can be read many times. I first read Stiff before I had the opportunity to experience a cadaver. When I did, having read this book made my experience even more fascinating.

“This book changed my life.”


Natalie Klempel, MSc

From the moment I finished it, I knew I wanted to be one of the characters in the book, making a difference, and educating others about cadavers. I always knew I wanted to donate my body to science, but after reading Stiff, I feel like I have more options to consider. As Roach writes,“The point is that no matter what you choose to do with your body when you die, it won’t, ultimately, be very appealing. If you are inclined to donate yourself to science, you should not let images of dissection or dismemberment put you off. They are no more or less gruesome, in my opinion, than ordinary decay or the sewing shut of your jaws via your nostrils for a funeral viewing.”

This book is not for the individuals who have a weak stomach. Roach goes into detail on several occasions about anatomy, death, and other gruesome events. For example:

“I walk up and down the rows. The heads look like rubber Halloween masks. They also look like human heads, but my brain has no precedent for human heads on tables or in roasting pans or anywhere other than on top of a human bodies, and so I think it has chosen to interpret the sight in a more comforting manner. Here we are at the rubber mask factory. Look at the nice men and woman working on the masks.”

I advise reading with caution or perhaps listening to the audio version of the book. However, this book is easy to read, entertaining, and very respectful to the dead. Stiff is amazing; there are not enough positive things that can be said about this book and its talented author.

Natalie Klempel has a MSc in Human Anatomy from the Center of Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, and is a Ph.D. candidate at Ulster University.

Thank you, Natalie for sharing your experience of this book!

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