Sunday, December 10, 2006


This book was the perfect antidote to Michael Chabon, who has been plaguing me for the past week. Snappy narrative non-fiction about - as the subtitle reads - "the curious lives of human cadavers." The author, Mary Roach, seemed to make it her goal to write a book about the most macabre and disgusting subject possible in a way that is matter-of-fact or, preferably, funny. The book is light, quick-reading, self-consciously quirky.

Roach's tone suits the subject matter. It's very stern and serious - this is science, after all - and yet some of the scenes she describes border on the absurd. The few pages that open the book, about forty plastic surgeons practicing face-lifts on forty decapitated human heads, is a good example.

I actually would recommend that almost anyone read this book, because it's legitimately helpful if you're wondering how you want to dispose of your own remains. One section is a day-by-day walkthrough of the decomposition process (there is an institute in Texas dedicated to the study of human decomposition, and the author got to see and then describe in some detail various corpses at various stages of their return to the earth), there's an eye-witness account of cremation, desscriptions of various uses of human bodies and parts in medical schools or research institutes, and organ donation. There's even a section about converting your body to compost.

It definitely gave me a much less favorable view of both burial and cremation.

And did you know that the blood of the dead can't be taken for use in transfusions, even though if the body is fresh the blood is perfectly good? This seems like such a waste to me.

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