E. J. Wagner – The Science of Sherlock Holmes

The Science of Sherlock Holmes is a wild ride in a hansom cab along the road paved by Sherlock Holmesa ride that leads us through medicine, law, pathology, toxicology, anatomy, blood chemistry, and the emergence of real-life forensic science during the 19th and 20th centuries.

From the “well-marked print of a thumb” on a whitewashed wall in “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” to the trajectory and impact of a bullet in “The Reigate Squires”, author E. J. Wagner uses the Great Detective’s remarkable adventures as springboards into the real-life forensics behind them.

You’ll meet scientists, investigators, and medical experts, such as the larger-than-life Eugne Vidocq of the Paris Sret, the determined detective Henry Goddard of London’s Bow Street Runners, the fingerprint expert Sir Francis Galton, and the brilliant but arrogant pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury. You’ll explore the ancient myths and bizarre folklore that were challenged by the evolving field of forensics and examine the role that brain fever, Black Dogs, and vampires played in criminal history.

Real-life Holmesian mysteries abound throughout the book. What happened to Dr. George Parkman, wealthy physician and philanthropist, last seen entering the Harvard College of Medicine in 1849? The trial included some of the first expert testimony on handwriting analysis on recordsome of it foreshadowing what Holmes said of printed evidence years later in The Hound of the Baskervilles, “But this is my special hobby, and the differences are equally obvious.”

Through numerous cases, including celebrated ones such as those of Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden, the author traces the influence of the coolly analytical Holmes on the gradual emergence of forensic science from the grip of superstition. You’ll find yourself listening to The Science of Sherlock Holmes as eagerly as you would those of any Holmes mystery.

Author: E. J. Wagner
Narrator: E. J. Wagner, Simon Prebble
Duration: 8 hours 37 minutes
Released: 10 May 2010
Publisher: Audible Studios
Language: English

User Review:

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“Sherlock Holmes may have been fictional,” writes E.J. Wagner, “but what we learn from him is very real. He tell us that science provides not simplistic answers but a rigorous method of formulating questions that may lead to answers.” The Science of Sherlock Holmes offers a history of forensic science by focusing on 1) what informed Arthur Conan Doyle’s portrayal of Holmes and his method, and 2) how Holmes in turn influenced his real-life descendants. It’s not a comprehensive history, but rather a thematic study of advances in various areas of forensics – ballistics, footprints, fingerprints, blood analysis, etc. – with in-depth illustrations from some of the most famous (or infamous) watershed cases in the UK and US (including Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden). For my purposes, wanting to get a better handle on how Holmes was informed by and then informed advances in this field, I found it to be an engaging and satisfying listen.