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Life Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Murder Two: The Second Casebook of Forensic Detection by Colin Evans (Wiley) A murdered scientist points her finger from the grave at her brutal killer. A Stone Age homicide comes to light after 5,300 years.

A serial killer who slays women on two continents is finally brought to justice by a single hair that yields just nine billionths of a gram of human DNA. All these miracles of detection were made possible only by the crime lab, our leading weapon in the war on crime. If you are fascinated by both the history of forensics and the very latest developments in crime scene investigation, autopsies, and other aspects of the science, Murder Two is the book for you.

This comprehensive casebook of forensic detection presents nearly one hundred classic, high-profile cases in which police detectives and crime labs worked together to solve baffling and horrifying crimes through the shrewd, painstaking use of science. Spanning four continents and almost two hundred years, these cases feature the forensic quirks, wrinkles, and breakthroughs that led to major advances in crime detection.

Author Colin Evans demonstrates how, from the first fumbling attempts to identify poisons and bullets through the modern miracle of GPS satellite technology, forensic experts have waged a multifaceted battle against crime. He reveals how real-world investigators have used ballistics, toxicology, brain fingerprinting, anthropology, blood spatter analysis, DNA typing, and, of course, conventional fingerprinting to solve crimes.

Accounts are provided of the scientific developments that gave birth to each of these procedures, fueling quantum leaps in the accuracy and precision of their findings.

Many of these developments were pioneered by scientists, inventors, and detectives, whose insights and sheer determination revolutionized the fight against crime. Included here are fully cross-referenced profiles and case details of twenty-five major figures in forensic science, including laboratory superstars Edward O. Heinrich and Milton Helpern.

The next time you’re watching CSI or reading a newspaper account of a major murder investigation, keep your copy of Murder Two close at hand. With a quick flip through this easy-access, A-to-Z reference, you’ll know that you understand the meaning and importance of all the forensic evidence in question.

Reflections of Our Past: How Human History is Revealed in Our Genes by John H. Relethford (Westview Press) is a gem of a book. In it, Relethford, an anthropologist at SUNY Oneonta, a distinguished teaching professor, examines how members of his field use genetic information to shed light on human origins and prehistory. And he questions some orthodox views along the way in this accessible and absorbing examination of how the genes of living people in the world today reveal the history of humankind, from the origins of humans 6 million years ago to the present.

In non-technical language, he gives the answer or shows how the answer could be obtained through research to such important questions as:

  • Where did modern humans come from and how important are the biological differences among us?
  • Are we descended from Neanderthals?
  • How many races of people are there?
  • Were Native Americans the first settlers of the New World ?
  • How can we tell if Thomas Jefferson had a child with Sally Hemings?
  • Can we see even in the Irish of today evidence of Viking rampages of a millennium ago?

There are also chapters on the origins of the Polynesians, and the ever-interesting case studies of genetic admixtures such as the Jewish diaspora. Relethford shows us why our closest living relatives are the African apes, and he challenges the current view that all our ancestors originated in Africa 150,000 years ago. The author also touches on the Kennewick Man controversy (the skeleton found in Washington state was dated at 9,600 years old yet appeared European), concluding that he was probably not Caucasian but, in fact, a precursor to Native Americans.

Through engaging examination of issues such as these, Reflections of Our Past shows how anthropologists use genetic information of many kinds to test theories and define possible answers to fundamental questions in human history. This is a highly readable, popular exposition of human evolution and the breakthroughs and methods in genetics research, a highly contentious field – a must-read for professionals and the general public interested in human variation and evolution.

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