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The Science of Sherlock Holmes by E. J.…

The Science of Sherlock Holmes (2006)

by E. J. Wagner

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I love Sherlock Holmes. As I've mentioned on this blog before, my dog is even named Sherlock! I will pretty much read absolutely anything about the Great Detective, from canon to modernized fictional takes to non-fiction analysis. And I always have high hopes for every book on Holmes I read, that it can do justice to my favorite fictional character and the world Doyle created around him.

Luckily, The Science of Sherlock Holmes is a unique and well-written addition to the multitudes of Sherlock Holmes' books out there. Wagner takes a non-fiction approach to analysis of the canon, specifically through the lens of science and forensics.

Using both Holmes' cases and true crime from around the world, Wagner explores the history and development of forensic science throughout the ages. Everything from fingerprints to blood analysis is covered, and Wagner expertly weaves in Holmes' quotes and true crime tales to highlight and explain.

This is a book for fans of Sherlock Holmes, forensics, true crime, and just really interesting non-fiction reads. ( )
  seasonsoflove | Dec 4, 2016 |
This book covers similar but different ground to The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: both books look at early developments in forensic science using the stories of Sherlock Holmes as an overarching framework. However, of the two, this one is better for a reader new to Holmes, because the quotes chosen are merely used as a springboard to discuss the history of forensic science, as opposed to analyzing Holmes's actual cases. Each chapter discusses an aspect of forensic science, such as trace analysis or fingerprints, and at the end the author includes some bonus miscellaneous facts under the section "Whatever Remains" -- facts that are interesting but couldn't really fit neatly within the body of the chapter. It's a good book to dip into, but also works well as a Sunday-afternoon read. Recommended if you like Holmes, Murdoch Mysteries or other mysteries set during the Victorian/Edwardian and later period. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jun 12, 2014 |
For years now, I've wondered how much of the forensics science described in the Sherlock Holmes canon was factual. Given the currency of shows like CSI, it can be difficult to imagine that as early as the 1880s (when the Holmes stories were being penned) police were already utilizing trace evidence to solve crimes.

Turns out I'm not the only one wondering! The author, E.J. Wagner, combines his skills as a historian and his credentials as a Holmes fan to map the Sherlock Holmes stories against actual Victorian crimefighting techniques.

Devoting a chapter each to poisons, fingerprints, footprints, handwriting evidence, insect evidence, disguise, ballistics, dust/fiber analysis, blood evidence, how crime scenes were processed, and the science of autopsies, Wallace describes the methods that were actually being utilized at the time, gives examples of each in the Holmes canon, and then regales the reader with scores of real-life cases from the Victorian era in which the techniques were employed.

Though he's writing about science, Wagner's prose is breezy, his tone light, and his scientific descriptions highly accessible. Nor is a knowledge of the Holmes stories a prerequisite, as the author is diligent in ensuring that all quotes from the stories are accompanied by a sufficiently detailed description of context.

There's really something for everyone here. Historians will appreciate the opportunity to learn more about not-often-addressed aspects of the Victorian era. Fans of true & fictional crime will delight in the author's engrossing tales of notorious Victorian crimes (a combination of the usual "Victorian greatest hits of crime" - Lizzie Bordon, Jack the Ripper, Madame Lafarge, Dr. Crippen, etc. - enhanced by scores of lesser known but equally engrossing tales). And Sherlockians will relish the opportunity to learn more about how police methods influenced the Holmes tales ... and, even more fascinating, how the Holmes tales influenced police methods.

This is one book that deserves more attention than it has apparently gotten. Highly recommended! ( )
  Dorritt | Dec 1, 2012 |
A fascinating look into the development of forensic science in Victorian Times and how Sherlock Holmes embraced many of the newest methods in his investigations. ( )
  pratchettfan | May 30, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0470128232, Paperback)

Praise for The Science of Sherlock Holmes

"Holmes is, first, a great detective, but he has also proven to be a great scientist, whether dabbling with poisons, tobacco ash, or tire marks. Wagner explores this fascinating aspect of his career by showing how his investigations were grounded in the cutting-edge science of his day, especially the emerging field of forensics.... Utterly compelling."
—Otto Penzler, member of the Baker Street Irregulars and proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop

"E. J. Wagner demonstrates that without the work of Sherlock Holmes and his contemporaries, the CSI teams would be twiddling their collective thumbs. Her accounts of Victorian crimes make Watson's tales pale! Highly recommended for students of the Master Detective."
—Leslie S. Klinger, Editor, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes

"In this thrilling book, E. J. Wagner has combined her considerable strengths in three disciplines to produce a work as compelling and blood-curdling as the best commercial fiction. This is CSI in foggy old London Town. Chilling, grim fun."
—John Westermann, author of Exit Wounds and Sweet Deal

"I am recommending this delightful work to all of my fellow forensic scientists.... Bravo, Ms. Wagner!"
—John Houde, author of Crime Lab: A Guide for Nonscientists

"A fabulously interesting read. The book traces the birth of the forensic sciences to the ingenuity of Sherlock Holmes. A wonderful blend of history, mystery, and whodunit."
—Andre Moenssens, Douglas Stripp Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Missouri at Kansas City, and coauthor of Scientific Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:06 -0400)

"The Science of Sherlock Holmes is a wild ride in a hansom cab along the road paved by Sherlock Holmes - a ride that leads us through medicine, law, pathology, toxicology, anatomy, blood chemistry, and the emergence of real-life forensic science during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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