Skip to main content

The Father of Forensics – Colin Evans ***

I have to state right away that this book was a cracking read – I really enjoyed it, even if the pleasure was something of a guilty one. The only reason it hasn’t got more stars is that, as we’ll see, there’s little science in it, and some really opportunities missed for that.
It’s the story of Sir Bernard Spilsbury, once Britain’s foremost forensic pathologist. As the subtitle says, it’s ‘how Sir Bernard Spilsbury invented modern CSI.’ In truth (and this is why the pleasure was a touch guilty) it’s mostly a true crime book, describing the key cases Spilsbury was involved in. Yes, we are told what Spilsbury did – but the real meat of each story is the lurid crime itself, starting with the one that launched Spilsbury as a superb expert witness, Crippen. I don’t know why, but there are some historical murder cases that stick in the collective consciousness, and Crippen’s crime in 1910 (followed by his capture after fleeing across the Atlantic) has stood the test of time.
So, plenty of great cases, and clever work from Sir Bernard. But hardly anything about the science of crime scene investigation and forensic work, which in the end is what I’d expect from a book being marketed as popular science. A couple of times we hear that Spilsbury really changed the scientific armoury of his profession – but there is hardly any detail about what was involved.
When it comes down to it, if I were a bookseller, and choosing where to put this book, it would go in true crime. not popular science. However, it doesn’t stop it being a compelling piece of writing. Evans dramatizes events with just enough details to carry the reader along. It’s factual, but has all the enticement of a crime novel.
Paperback:  
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Cosmology for the Curious - Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin ***

In the recently published The Little Book of Black Holes we saw what I thought was pretty much impossible - a good, next level, general audience science title, spanning the gap between a typical popular science book and an introductory textbook, but very much in the style of popular science. Cosmology for the Curious does something similar, but coming from the other direction. This is an introductory textbook, intended for first year physics students, with familiar textbook features like questions to answer at the end of each chapter. Yet by incorporating some history and context, plus taking a more relaxed style in the writing, it's certainly more approachable than a typical textbook.

The first main section, The Big Bang and the Observable Universe not only covers basic big bang cosmology but fills in the basics of special and general relativity, Hubble's law, dark matter, dark energy and more. We then move onto the more speculative (this is cosmology, after all) aspects, brin…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…