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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Landy, Derek: Skulduggery Pleasant | Main | Adler, Elizabeth: Meet Me in Venice »

Cheney, Annie: Body Brokers

  

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Broadway Books © 2006, 205 pages [amazon]
4 stars

A human head might bring in seven or eight hundred dollars, a spine at least as much again. Shoulders, knees, bones, brains, various viscera--pretty much every part of a dead body can be sold off if the corpse is fresh enough. The demand for material is high: medical schools and medical device companies and surgical skills workshops need bodies or body parts for dissection, and willed body programs don't produce enough corpses to go around. That's why, shocking though it is, there is apparently a robust underground trade in human remains--in the U.S., in the present day.

[INSET TEXT: One comes away from Cheney's book impressed at the apparent extent to which this gruesome business is going on, and impressed also with how many people seem to be able to sleep comfortably at night when they've got a refrigerator full of heads in the next room.] Annie Cheney explores the gruesome subculture of modern-day body snatchers in her book Body Brokers, which grew out of an award-winning article she wrote on the subject for Harper's. She discusses in detail how bodies en route to their final resting places can be harvested for parts--by pathologists' assistants, for example, or corrupt funeral directors, or crematorium operators. She discusses also the various markets for body parts, including institutions that need bodies for instructional dissection as well as factories that transform human tissue into products--"injectable bone paste" and the sorts of things you might find in Home Depot, screws and dowels and wedges, except that they're made out of human bone. ("It's all precision tooled....") Cheney also provides a chapter on the "Resurrection Men" of the 19th century, men who, like their modern-day counterparts, did the dirty work of supplying corpses for a price. But the Resurrectionists usually had to dig up fresh graves to get their material.

One comes away from Cheney's book impressed at the apparent extent to which this gruesome business is going on, and impressed also with how many people seem to be able to sleep comfortably at night when they've got a refrigerator full of heads in the next room. It's interesting to note also how efficient the business is: when possible, bodies are dismembered and their parts sold off individually.

"The three of them went on in this way, methodically moving from body to body, part to part. Tyler removed Ronald King's elbows--one slice on the forearm and two swift strokes forward with his saw until the bones snapped in two. Then his hands and knees. One slice on his calf and his thigh, a few cuts of his saw, and the leg came right off. Then his head. Tyler plucked out King's brain like a smooth boiled egg from its shell."

This makes perfect financial sense, of course. Why supply a class full of gynecologists with perfect corpses, for example, when the students can just as well practice on limbless, headless torsos?

"Over the next couple of days, Brown hung around in the conference room, watching the gynecologists as they probed the vaginas of the dead women. When a torso needed adjusting, he noticed, the doctors called on Tyler to help. Tyler gingerly moved the chilly flesh into the right position, raising or lowering it so that the doctors could get a good view. When the dead ladies began to smell, Tyler spritzed  them with deodorizer. At the end of the day, he packed them into Igloo coolers. The next morning he brought them out again."

As you can see, Cheney's book is deliciously gruesome in parts.

Body Brokers is readable and seems very well researched. The author documents her sources in the book's notes and bibliography. My only difficulty with it is that, although it's quite short--the narrative ends, a little too abruptly, after 193 pages--it is difficult to keep the names of the various characters and companies straight. (Cheney provides a list of characters at the beginning of the book, but it's still a bit confusing.) Otherwise, Body Brokers is an interesting and certainly an eye-opening read. It could make some people change their minds about leaving their bodies to science.

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Comments

1.

I found the book to be rather compelling and a bit gruesome - but very eye opening.

It seems to me that no matter what you "intend" to have happen with your body after you die - it could very likely end up some place else OR "in a number of different places". With quite a bit of money going to others for your body parts.

2.

It is a little alarming. If you haven't read it yet, you should also try Mary Roach's Stiff, which is quite eye-opening (and very good).




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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.