Friday, August 08, 2008

"Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach (pub. W. W. Norton & Company 2003)

I recently read Mary Roach's book, "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife," and was impressed by the way the author not only could explain the science of death and dying but that she did it with great wit. I mean there were times while reading the book I would catch myself laughing out loud, and have to look around and make sure no one thought I was a bit crazy. But no one did...or at least none that would admit it. Anyway, after that treat of non-fiction, educational but in a fun way, book I had to go back and read her earlier book, I was not let down. This book provided the learn something new but have some laughs along the way fun that I've now come to expect from Mary Roach.

Keep in mind she does look at this in a fun way, but in no way does Mary Roach make fun of the dead or dying. Humor with class and education is the best way to describe what is in this book.

In "Stiff:..." Mary Roach examines the many things that happen after a person ceases being a person. Mostly these people have donated their bodies for research, but in the past it was not always that way. So not only is there a bit of exploring what a cadaver is expected to go through, Mary Roach also gives a bit of a history lesson on the dead.

I think this book is best summed up with a list of the chapters, so here's a list of the chapters.

1. A Head Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Practicing surgery on the dead
2. Crimes of Anatomy: Body snatching and other sordid tales from the dawn of human dissection
3. Life After Death: On human decay and what can be done about it
4. Dead Man Driving: Human crash test dummies and the ghastly, necessary science of impact tolerance
5. Beyond the Black Box: When the bodies of the passengers must tell the story of a crash
6. The Cadaver Who Joined the Army: The sticky ethics of bullets and bombs
7. Holy Cadaver: The crucifixion experiments
8. How to Know if You're Dead: Beating-heart cadavers, live burial, and the scientific search for the soul
9. Just a Head: Decapitation, reanimation, and the human head transplant
10. Eat Me: Medicinal cannibalism and the case of the human dumplings
11. Out of the Fire, into the Compost Bin: And other new ways to end up
12. Remains of the Author: Will she or won't she?

As you can see lots of interesting subjects and each chapter more informative and entertaining than the previous. Keep in mind this book is not for the squeamish. I will have to say that the book as a huge squirm factor, by that I mean if you , like me, have a hard time listening to very descriptive discussions about body parts and cutting into same and squirm around in your seat when you hear or read such, you'll be squirming throughout this book. However, I found the book very fascinating, informative and yes entertaining so I squirmed but read on.

Seriously you know you're in for some squirming when the book opens up with:

"The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had the occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan. But here are forty of them, one per pan, resting face-up on what looks to be a small pet-food bowl. The heads are for plastic surgeons, two per head, to practice on...."

After this book I've decided I'm still not sure about what to do with my body after I'm done with it. I do support the "harvesting" of my organs but for the rest, i'm thinking seriously about the composting idea. (read chapter 11)

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posted by Gil T. @ 7:33 PM Comments: 0

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife" by Mary Roach

Okay, I can say whether you are a skeptic or a or a "believer," the afterlife, or what happens after we die intrigues all. C'mon admit it you do find yourself curious. Well Mary Roach has written a book for you. For the skeptics, well Mary is one herself, as for the believers Mary Roach seeks out scientific proof of the soul, heaven and the great beyond.

This book "Spook..." is actually a sequel to Ms. Roach's book, "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." In "Stiff..," Ms. Roach explored what happens to cadavers/bodies after death. So why not go and find out what happens to the soul?

This book tackles the many aspects of the soul. From reincarnation to near death experiences. Mary Roach approaches the subjects with a mix skepticism and open mindeness, but let me tell you she does so with such a great sense of humor that you actually don't realize you are reading scientific material. The book is anecdotal and mixed in with some of the scientific theories of quantum mechanics and the chemicals of the brain, it is a very fun read. Quantum Mechanics fun read??? Yes, and even more so when Ms. Roach shares the stories and interviews.

The author goes out and crosses the globe to find the subjects and professionals involved. From the poorest neighborhoods in India to taking a course on mediumship in England, Ms. Roach goes all out for this book. She also dedicates a lot of time on the swindlers of the Spiritualists movement which occured in the early part of the 20th century in the U.S. In this section she talks about how spiritualists claimed to talk to the dead and even produced "ectoplasm" from thin air. As the investigation continues it is found that the ectoplasm actually is a gauze like material that the female spiritualists would extract ...their nether regions.

The book also covers such phenomenon as Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), the weight of the soul (21 grams?), electromagnetically induced hallucinations, a legal case involving life after death, and more. In each of the sections she uncovers evidence that could go either way...but usually tended to lean more toward debunking (or maybe that's the skeptic in ME).

In the end when forced to say whether she believes in life after death, she says the believers are much more fun to visit a cemetery with than a scientific skeptic, so "What the hell, I believe."

This book is really fun and informative...but I like the fun part more. Really you'll find this book hard to put down.

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posted by Gil T. @ 10:05 PM Comments: 0