The best books on the supply of cadavers and what they can teach us

Janet Philp Author Of Burke - Now and Then
By Janet Philp

Who am I?

I am an anatomy educator and doctoral researcher looking at the use of human material in anatomy education. My historical research into the antics of body suppliers has caused me to explore many publications on what we do with the remains of our relatives. This is a subject that can be fascinating but also requires compassionate handling and sometimes asks us questions that we often do not want to ponder.


I wrote...

Burke - Now and Then

By Janet Philp,

Book cover of Burke - Now and Then

What is my book about?

My book is split: the first half is a story of the serial killers Burke and Hare told from the perspective of Burke’s skeleton which still resides at the University of Edinburgh. The second half is the 4 years of research that went into ensuring that the story matches the facts that we know about the duo. Burke and Hare provided medical teaching with 17 bodies during 1827-1829 and are the UK’s second most prolific serial killers. This is a story of a serial killer in the first person – it can be a challenging set of shoes to step into.

The books I picked & why

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The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London

By Sarah Wise,

Book cover of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London

Why this book?

An exploration of the suspected murder of an Italian child in London that along with the murders of Burke and Hare, changed how bodies are supplied for medical teaching. Set in London in the 1830s it is a factual look at the way cadavers were supplied for medical teaching at that point in history.


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

By Mary Roach,

Book cover of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Why this book?

A look at what Roach calls the ‘curious lives of human cadavers’; the way they are used for teaching and research and other purposes that are not so easily explained. A mix of historical uses for human remains along with modern-day uses that you were maybe not aware of. Even once you die you can carry on working.


After We Die: The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver

By Norman L. Cantor,

Book cover of After We Die: The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver

Why this book?

This is an interesting book about the nature of human corpses and their legal standing. Canto looks at several controversial cases about the disposal of human remains, whether the deceased wishes were upheld and where we stand on the definition of treating remains with dignity and respect. Who controls the fate of human remains and is it important that you specify what you want before you die.


The Silent Teacher: The Gift of Body Donation

By Claire F. Smith,

Book cover of The Silent Teacher: The Gift of Body Donation

Why this book?

Right up to date with a book written by an anatomist detailing how cadavers are used in a modern teaching facility in the UK. In an unusual break from the silence that usually surrounds the use of human cadavers, Dr. Smith talks us through the whole process from donation to disposal and the assistance they provide to medical teaching.


From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

By Caitlin Doughty,

Book cover of From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

Why this book?

Caitlin, a practising mortician, travels the world to look at the various customs around death and the disposal of bodies. She introduces us to what we might consider unusual practices and explores the beliefs that drive the different practices. This is a thought-provoking comparison of the different ways we deal with our dead.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cadavers, poverty, and murders?

5,716 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cadavers, poverty, and murders.

Cadavers Explore 5 books about cadavers
Poverty Explore 41 books about poverty
Murders Explore 331 books about murders

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Dark Archives, Gut, and Body of Work if you like this list.