The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach
W.W. Norton 2003
About the Author
Has written for Salon, Discover, New York Times Magazine
For two thousand years, cadavers -- some willingly, some unwittingly -- have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.
In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries -- from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting.
Besides a study about what happens to our remains, Roach has this comment:
"Anthropologists will tell you that the reason people never dined regularly on other people is economics. While there existed, I am told, cultures in Central America that actually ranched humans -- kept enemy soldiers captive for awhile to fatten them up -- it was not practical to do so, because you had to give up more food to feed them than you'd gain in the end by eating them. Carnivores and omnivores, in other words, make lousy livestock."
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