Stiff by Mary Roach, a book review and author characterization

When I was winding down my term as president of the Berkeley Branch of the California Writers Club, I recall there was an item on my To Do List that never got checked off.

Call Mary Roach–invite her to speak at a club meeting and schmooz her up about becoming a member.   She lives in Oakland, CA, and the BB CWC is her hometown branch.

Her name came up in conversation the other day and I recalled how I chuckled my way through Stiff, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. And this is a clue to the corner of writing that Mary owns.  (Note how quickly I feel I am on a first-name basis with her.) She is a science writer who believes science can be fun, even funny, and even downright goofy.

In her lively style she braids fact and wit into a long rope and snares us into light academia.  Her research appears to be as thorough as any doctoral thesis.  How else to learn about cadaver candy, cadavers used to examine the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, FAA and NTSB investigations of crashes, forensic studies of decomposition, and many other topics you always thought were disgusting.

Even the squeamish will be engaged by Stiff.  And might find themselves reading the book in a single sitting.

After I hit the road and lost track of her, Mary continued to peck away at her keyboard and produced what surely are definitely works in the Funnybone Science genre.  So I am adding her recent books to my To Be Read List:

Spook, Science Tackles the Afterlife.
Bonk, the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
And her latest
Gulp, Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Packing for Mars, the Curious Science of Life in the Void.

There is a 5-minute-read interview, which will give you a taste of her style, posted to Goodreads at:


About allevenson

Writer (of stories, journals, email dialogues), Reader (of books written by friends, recommended by friends, and works-in-progress of friends), Hiker (never met a trailhead I didn't like), Biker (more scenery for the buck than hiking) and lately, Blogger (about my Year on the Road at
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3 Responses to Stiff by Mary Roach, a book review and author characterization

  1. Colleen Rae says:

    I checked out the first couple of paragraphs of ‘Stiff’ and I just couldn’t get into it. Since I am a vegetarian it was doubled difficult for me to see even any humor. I know I must be missing something there. I’ll go back and try to read it more carefully. I have been taught that if the book/novel doesn’t hook you in the first paragraph/page, forget it. But I know Roach’s reputation and I can’t believe she would write something that wasn’t worthwhile. Al, I respect your opinions and if you found value in this book, I’ll give it a second read.

  2. David L says:

    Quite a tease you offered. If I were Mary, I would owe you. Even as Dave, I feel obligated to reach for one of those books. Nicely done Mr. L. Your words seem to improve with your age … and, lest we forget, your rambling. Heres to many and much more, and the masterpiece yet to come.

  3. Patricia Grace says:

    Hi Al, I heard a FRESH AIR, Teri Gross, interview Mary Roach on April 2/KQED. You may enjoy it. “Mary” was quite charming. GULP was the subject. Good on you, Pat

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