I really enjoyed Mary Roach's more recent book, Packing for Mars
. Roach's shtick seems to be pick a subject that the public has a fascination with, and go write a book about it by interviewing various professionals and asking embarrassing questions. It's not clear whether Roach really is as annoying while interviewing people as she seems to be, or if this is just a little narrative embellishment for the sake of making the book more entertaining, but she seems to revel in making people regret they agreed to talk to her. Especially priests and mortuary directors.
So, you can't get much more irreverent than writing a pop science book about corpses. In about a dozen chapters, Stiff
covers the history and science of, well, dead bodies. Decomposition, putrefaction, mummification, decapitation, embalming, cremation, organ removal, it's all here. Also, cannibalism, cadavers used as crash test dummies and for studying bullet and explosives injuries, and where the corpses and skeletons used in medical schools come from.
The disposition of dead bodies has been guided for centuries by religious and cultural practices, often based on irrational superstitions or misguided scientific notions, and persists to this day. One wishes everyone could be as flippant about human remains after they've been reduced merely to meat as Mary Roach is, though I'm not sure I'd want her anywhere near my corpse. But this is a pretty interesting book, although if you have a low tolerance for gore and grue, you probably shouldn't read it while eating. Also, if you're one of those people who thinks death is very, very serious and dead bodies shouldn't be joked about, well, the title should warn you that this isn't a book that treats the subject with any degree of solemnity. On the other hand, if you've ever wondered how you'd like your remains disposed of, this book will give you plenty of ideas!