Skip to main content Skip to navigation
WSU Undergraduate Education WSU Common Reading

WSU Common Reading 2008-09


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers


The Author

Mary Roach is a columnist and an author of four books including “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” (2003).

She graduated from Wesleyan University in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Roach then moved to San Francisco with some friends to work as a freelance copy editor.

Her writing career, however, began at the San Francisco Zoological Society, where she wrote press releases on topics such as elephant wart surgery. She also wrote freelance articles for the local newspaper’s Sunday magazine.

In addition to “Stiff” her books include:

  • “Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife” (2005)
  • “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” (2008)
  • “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void” (2010)

Roach mostly writes books these days, but still writes the occasional magazine piece. In 1995, her article called “How to Win at Germ Warfare” was a National Magazine Award Finalist. In 1996, her article on earthquake-proof bamboo houses took the Engineering Journalism Award in the general interest magazine category. She also reviews books for The New York Times.

The Book

Cadavers have been involved in science’s boldest strides for 2,000 years. “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” is a compelling and often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem.

“Stiff”, a New York Times bestseller was published in 2003. Topics covered by the book range from black-market mummies to head transplants to how to know if you’re truly dead.

Roach’s first book started out as an offshoot of a column she wrote for Salon.com. It was a reported humor column, where she covered amputee bowling leagues and the question of how much food does it take to burst a human stomach.

Common Reading Tuesdays

The Common Reading Tuesdays series was created during the 2008-09 academic year for the WSU Common Reading program. The series engaged more than 3,500 students in academic inquiry and discussion through lectures, panels and other events.

Common Reading Tuesdays featured evening presentations by faculty on their research and interest areas that were related to “Stiff” topics. Those included descriptions of exploring DNA in ancient human remains, forensic investigations using insects and plants, and perceptions of body image, for example. A traveling Frankenstein exhibit, movie showings, museum displays, and panel discussions rounded out the Common Reading semester.

For the 2008-09 academic year, the Common Reading Tuesdays events included:

  • Sept 2: “Old Genes (Sometimes) Never Wear Out” presented by Brian Kemp, 7 p.m., CUE 203
  • Sept 9: “Putting A Timeline on Death” presented by Bethany Marshall, 7 p.m., CUE 203
  • Sept 23: “Just Because We Can…Should We?” presented by a panel on medical research and bioethics, 7 p.m., Abelson 201
  • Sept 30: “Body Image: In Bondage to Society’s Perceptions” presented by Tim Freson, 7 p.m., CUE 203
  • Oct 7: “Would You Tattoo?: Cultural and Contemporary Prespectives” presented by a panel on the cultural significance of body art, 7 p.m., CUE 203
  • Oct 14: “The Curse of the Mummy’s Text” presented by Michael Delahoyde, 7 p.m., CUE 203
  • Oct. 21: “Cerebral Automatism, the Brain, and the Soul in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula'” presented by Anne Stiles, 7 p.m., Owen Science Library
  • Oct 28: “Ways in Which We Are Called to Remember” presented by Linda H. Zuñiga, 7 p.m., CUE 203
  • Nov 18: “Coug-Busters Meat Ballistics Gel” presented by Dave Bahr and David Field, 7 p.m., CUE 203