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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Sarah Wise,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Italian Boy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Towards the end of 1831, the authorities unearthed a series of crimes at Number 3, Nova Scotia Gardens in East London that appeared to echo the notorious Burke and Hare killings in Edinburgh three years earlier. After a long investigation, it became known that a group of body snatchers - two men in particular, John Bishop and Thomas Williams, called the 'London Burkers' - were supplying the anatomy schools with fresh 'examples' for dissection. The case became known as 'The Italian Boy' and caused a furore which led directly to the passing of controversial legislation which marked the beginning of…

Book cover of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Why did I love 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.

By Mary Roach,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Stiff as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For two thousand years, cadavers - some willingly, some unwittingly - have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender confirmation surgery, cadavers have helped make history in their quiet way. "Delightful-though never disrespectful" (Les Simpson, Time Out New York), Stiff investigates the strange lives of our bodies postmortem and answers the question: What should…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Norman L. Cantor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked After We Die as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What will become of our earthly remains? What happens to our bodies during and after the various forms of cadaver disposal available? Who controls the fate of human remains? What legal and moral constraints apply? Legal scholar Norman Cantor provides a graphic, informative, and entertaining exploration of these questions. "After We Die" chronicles not only a corpse's physical state but also its legal and moral status, including what rights, if any, the corpse possesses. In a claim sure to be controversial, Cantor argues that a corpse maintains a "quasi-human status" granting it certain protected rights - both legal and moral.…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Claire F. Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Silent Teacher as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One single body donation could affect the lives of around ten million patients. Body donation is an amazing gift which enables doctors and healthcare professionals to understand the human body. Surgeons can refine existing surgical skills and develop new procedures to create better treatment for you. Dr Claire Smith goes through every aspect of donating a body, clearly describing what happens to a body once it has been donated, how it is used, how bodies are reassembled and then placed in coffins before cremation.

This is the fascinating journey into the untold story of the Silent Teacher.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Caitlin Doughty,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked From Here to Eternity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world's funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of the American funeral industry-especially chemical embalming-and suggests that the most effective traditions are those that allow mourners to personally attend to the body of the deceased. Exquisitely illustrated by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is an adventure into the…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in poverty, cadavers, and the economy?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about poverty, cadavers, and the economy.

Poverty Explore 85 books about poverty
Cadavers Explore 7 books about cadavers
The Economy Explore 185 books about the economy