Picks and Pans Review: Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

updated 06/02/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Mary Roach

"Death. It doesn't have to be boring." So writes journalist Roach, and on a freewheeling tour of the many uses—and misuses—of the human corpse, she eschews sadness (and profundity) to look into the history of French guillotines, British grave-robbing and urban myths about "human dumplings" at Chinese restaurants. You'll discover that the Colosseum "featured occasional backstage concessions of blood from freshly slain gladiators, which was thought to cure epilepsy" and that the flesh of cadavers has "more or less the same body composition as veal." Roach's conversational tone and her gallows humor bring her subjects to life. (Norton, $23.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Morbidly entertaining

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