And Then You’re Dead: A Scientific Exploration of the World’s Most Interesting Ways to Die by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty
Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 4.5 stars
Genre: science, humour, mortality
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Humans are morbid little sods. Give us half a chance, and we’ll create a million morbidity scenarios around even the least offensive of actions. ‘What if’ seems to be the go-to question for the bored, the wary, or the gleefully malicious: we do so enjoy the old wives tales about stepping on banana peels, or getting eaten by whales.
But, honestly, how real are those stories?
There are a lot of books in the world talking about death- generally in the overly sombre way that strives to be unassuming and respectful to everyone. Death, in many ways, is a taboo subject, to the point that we’ve changed the language of mourning to remove death from the conversation. People aren’t dead, after all. They’re gone, or crossing the rainbow bridge, or they’ve passed, as though death is the final life-skills exam in the school of life. It can be confronting to have frank, unapologetic discussions around death, and if you prefer those kinds of conversations rife with allusions, you’re gonna want to avoid ‘And Then You’re Dead.’
‘And Then You’re Dead’ is the smart-asses guide to shuffling off the mortal coil, a snark-fuelled conversation around a range of different ‘what if’ scenarios regularly discussed over a few too many drinks. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in places, even if it can be rather gruesome, too. This is the concept of death with the angst forcefully removed, and the mechanics of the act in full, splendid view.
Oddly, though, I actually learned something here. The science is written to be easily understood, and surrounded by enough humour and gore to keep you from getting overwhelmed by how science-y it actually is to die in sometimes ridiculous ways. Many of the potential scenarios, after all, can’t actually be discussed from experience. No one has been silly enough to jump into a black hole. So where anecdotal evidence is thin on the ground, the science steps in to explain what’s likely to happen if, say, you stuck your hand in the Large Hadron Collider’s particle accelerator (spoiler: bad things will happen).
Some of these deaths, though, have actually happened, and it would be easy for this to turn into a Darwin Awards- like mockery. And yet, for all the laughter and snark, when discussing actual people who’ve died, the authors make a point of being respectful. Granted, they’re less respectful of those who’ve put themselves in harm’s way and survived, but given some of the ridiculous things people have done for curiosity, it’s hard to fault the gentle mockery.
This is a fantastic book for the more gruesome science nerds in your circle of friends, certainly, but if you’re a writer looking to put some realism into your murder scenes, ‘And Then You’re Dead’ is a wonderful book to meander through. It’s scientific without being incomprehensible to those of us generally baffled by the more logical arts, and it’s fun enough to keep you learning without making it feel like a lecture. While it’s possibly a poor gift choice for anyone squeamish, if you’re okay with a little bit of an ick factor, you’re probably going to love this book.
‘And Then You’re Dead’ is published by Allen & Unwin, and is available at all leading retailers.