Book: Death's Acre by Dr Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

Very interesting if a bit gruesome

Dr Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson
Death's Acre
Putnam, 2003
ISBN: 0-399-15134-6
280 pages (main text)

If a person dies under suspicious circumstances, a doctor routinely performs an autopsy to determine the cause of death. But what of bodies that are found long enough after death that an autopsy wouldn't tell much? Learning what those bodies can say about the time and circumstances of their deaths is the job of a forensic anthropologist. Death's Acre is the fascinating story of the career of Dr Bill Bass, one of the world's foremost forensic anthropologists. Among other things, he created the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where the natural decomposition of human bodies under various circumstances is studied. It's that facility that Patricia Cornwell made famous in her book The Body Farm.

In addition to telling us about the Body Farm, Dr Bass takes us through various cases he has worked on in his impressive career and makes them fascinating and even exciting. There are parts (and some photos) that some people will find gruesome, but there's never more gruesomeness than the science requires. We also hear just a bit about Dr Bass's private life; just enough to make us see him as a person, not just a dispassionate scientist.

The science that Dr Bass describes is fascinating. There's much that can be learned from even quite small amounts of bone, sometimes even when it has been burned or damaged. In the cases that Dr Bass describes, he rarely solves the case alone. That's the province of detective novels. Still, the evidence he has discovered has contributed to sending plenty of people to justice.

Facts are occasionally repeated in the book and the writing occasionally strays toward being purple, but those small flaws detract hardly at all from the enjoyment of the book.

Posted: Sat - April 10, 2004 at 09:20   Main   Category: