An entertaining, absorbing combination of biography and true crime.

READ REVIEW

AMERICAN SHERLOCK

MURDER, FORENSICS, AND THE BIRTH OF AMERICAN CSI

A biography of a little-known but influential forensic scientist told through the crimes that he helped solve.

Documentary producer Dawson (Journalism/Univ. of Texas; Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, 2017) tells the story of detective and chemist Oscar Heinrich (1881-1953), “the most famous criminalist you’ve likely never heard of,” the man who helped found modern forensic science through his pioneering work solving infamous cases. Though Heinrich had little use for the media, which he viewed as a tool, Dawson’s chapters all have fun Sherlock Holmes–esque titles, including “The Case of the Baker’s Handwriting,” “The Case of the Star’s Fingerprints,” and “The Case of the Calculating Chemist.” In each, the author tells vivid details of a wide variety of infamous crimes—e.g., those alleged of Fatty Arbuckle—not revealing all the secrets or indulging in conspiracy theories but still developing suspense and, most importantly, reporting the scene clearly with both the history accepted at the time and revisionist reflection. While many true-crime books suffer from stale prose, Dawson’s writing is remarkable in that it never uses the crutch of false suspense but also doesn’t skimp on valuable details. The author explains Heinrich’s deductive reasoning matter-of-factly, succinctly, and with the proper respectful attention to the victims while acknowledging the complex hubris of such an adept detective. When he heard of his nickname, the “American Sherlock,” Heinrich is reported as saying, “Not Sherlock Holmes….Holmes acted on hunches. And hunches play no part in my crime laboratory.” Readers see the development of each crime through victim and suspect profiles that read as objectively as Heinrich’s methods. We come to respect him, his scientific brain, and his integrity despite his mistakes. How do detectives understand what pieces relate to one another? Heinrich taught them how.

An entertaining, absorbing combination of biography and true crime.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53955-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more