Mary Roach is usually a journalist, and it comes through in her writing. Not in a bad way at all--in fact, it's exactly the kind of non-fiction that I like to read. Each chapter stands on its own, so the result is a book of related essay/interviews.
Stiff is totally worth reading--and since each chapter examines a different facet of the life of the dead, you can pick and choose. If you want, you can avoid the really icky stuff. (Or, if you're like me, you can go straight for it).
In the introduction, she addresses a major issue: death vs. dying:
There are those who will disagree with me, who feel that to do anything other than bury or cremate the dead is disrespectful. That includes, I suspect, writing about them. Many people will find this book disrespectful. There is nothing amusing about being dead, they will say. Ah, but there is. Being dead is absurd. It's the silliest situation you'll find yourself in. Your limbs are floppy and uncooperative. Your mouth hangs open. Being dead is unsightly and stinky and embarrassing, and there's not a damn thing to be done about it.
This book is not about death as in dying. Death, as in dying, is sad and profound. There is nothing funny about losing someone you love, or about being the person about to be lost. This book is about the already dead, the anonymous, behind-the-scenes dead.
I think that there's a chapter in here for everybody (not counting the people who'd be horrified by the book in the first place). There's a chapter about the history of body snatching (which let to full-on murders--it's easier to bonk someone over the head than it is to dig them up later), one in which she visits the guys that are the brains behind forensic science (they put cadavers in the backyard and just let 'em go), and one about reconstructing plane crashes (apparently, a lot of your clothes come off when you fall from great heights).
There was a guy in the 30s who wanted to prove that the Shroud of Turin was the real thing. What did he use? Cadavers. Later, there was a guy that wanted to prove that the first Shroud guy was full of it. What did he use? Cadavers. (That chapter, for whatever reason, was the one that freaked me out the most).
There's a guy that's wants to perform the first human head transplant. Actually, the book came out in 2003. For all I know, he could have done it by now. I hope not.
There's one about definition of death, which was really interesting, especially in relation to the Schiavo case.
In Sweden, there's a lady that has come up with a method of more ecologically-sound burial. It involves both freeze-drying and composting. And it's pretty cool.