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Tracking Down Criminals With Forensic Science

From the Invention & Impact series, volume 3

by H.P. Newquist

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-451-47646-3
Publisher: Viking

How nabbing perps has gone from using “guesswork, gossip…and even ghosts” to DNA analysis.

Newquist stumbles out of the starting gate with a radically simplistic overview of the pre-modern development of laws and law enforcement (“much of the Western world was in chaos during a time known as the Middle Ages”) and misses or neglects to mention that the standard Henry Classification System for fingerprints was actually invented by Indian mathematicians. Once he gets to mid-18th-century London’s proto-police “Bow Street Runners,” however, he goes on to deliver a reasonably straightforward account of how tools and techniques from blood typing to ballistics became incorporated into today’s forensic science. Also, he balances nods to the positive contributions of prominent criminologists like Alphonse Bertillon and Frances Glessner Lee with a sharp critique of their colleague Francis Galton’s belief in eugenics. He takes closer looks at groundbreaking cases and how they were solved (or not), tucks in topical glossaries as well as directions for homespun activities like collecting fingerprints and analyzing blood spatters (the latter using, thankfully, paint or food coloring), and closes with looks at theoretical advances such as “molecular photofitting,” which involves leveraging DNA to create physical descriptions. In the mix of historical portraits, documents, and crime-scene photos, all of the human figures are White, though several on both sides of the law are women.

Skimps on early days and non-European ways but lays out some groundwork for budding investigators.

(index, resource list) (Nonfiction. 11-13)