Forensic anthropology is fascinating. Starting from the point when a body has become a skeleton, forensic anthropologists analyse remains for purposes of identification, means of death or because of historical significance. Far from being a dry read, I found this book incredibly interesting.
One might expect that the author would be dry and scientific, but the writing style is engaging. Dr Maples delves into the history of forensic anthropology and discusses interesting cases from his career. Based in Florida, a great deal of his work is with skeletons of the murdered. This has obviously had some impact – he describes witnessing an execution and autopsy of a murderer:
… it is impossible to regard a murderer’s brain without an involuntary tingle of curiosity: what lay deep within the coralline grey whorls of this small, silenced kingdom? What happened along its intricate hallways, within the fine cerebral network of axons and dendrites, whose tiny, myriad sparkings are the physical basis of thought? Before it was shocked to death itself, what shocking poisons did this unique lump of flesh distill, to so subvert the mind of its owner and warp his will to evil?
Potential readers should not be concerned that this book is overly gruesome. The tone is always respectful and cases are presented with enough background and detail that they seem vivid, but not gratuitous. Personally, I was particularly fascinated by the chapter on the family of Tsar Nicholas II, and how the bodies of the royal family were finally conclusively identified.
Published in 1994, at times this book does feel a little dated. But I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the truth behind the glossy view of this science.