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The Book ‘Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers’ and the Shroud of Turin

image It’s the book you have been waiting for. It is the book you want to discuss at parties – maybe at a Sunday afternoon BBQ. It is "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” by Mary Roach. It was a New York Times best seller earlier this year, a fact that I hadn’t noticed. One reviewer, among many hundreds over at, wrote: " Roach has written a very interesting, while not too ghoulish, book about the uses of human cadavers. " Another reviewer said is was morbidly awesome.

There is an entire chapter called Holy Cadaver: The Crucifixion Experiment. It deals with the work of Dr. Pierre Barbet on the Shroud of Turin in 1931, which he detailed in his book, "A Doctor at Calvary." Roach also discusses Fred Zugibe’s work in some detail.

Barbet thought it was important to use a cadaver (several arms as well) for his experiments. Roach doesn’t like it. She writes:

To my mind there is no "greater office" than that of "alleviating the pains of our brothers" — certainly not the office of religious propaganda. Some people, as we’re about to see, manage to alleviate their brother’s pains and suffering while utterly dead. If there were ever a cadaver eligible for sainthood, it would not be our Spalding Gray [the cadaver] upon the cross, it would these guys: the brain-dead, beating-heart organ donors that come and go in our hospitals every day. (emphasis mine).

The book, actually, does a nice job of summarizing Barbet’s and Zugibe’s work. Zugibe, by the way, "is a gruff, overworked medical examiner . . ."

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