A thumbnail history of forensic science, ranging from ancient China to the O.J. Simpson trial.
Ramsland (Forensic Psychology/DeSales Univ.; Inside the Minds of Serial Killers: Why They Kill, 2006, etc.) is certainly the grande dame in this field, with more than 30 titles to her credit, most of them crime nonfiction focusing on forensics. Here she provides a quick history of how forensic science and criminal investigation have evolved throughout history. Since much of this territory has been extensively picked over in many previous titles, the most interesting elements come near the beginning, when the material is less familiar. For example, Ramsland gives an intriguing thumbnail sketch of Sung Tz’u, a 13th-century Chinese lawyer who wrote The Washing Away of Unjust Imputations, one of the oldest works on forensic technique. From there the narrative marches steadily through the ages, spending most of its time in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ramsland takes readers through each crucial development in forensics from ballistics and fingerprints to the supposed Holy Grail of DNA, first perfected in England in the 1980s. Here and there some fascinating characters pop out, like François Vidocq, the colorful reformed French thief who in 1812 created the Sûreté, the world’s first undercover detective organization. But for the most part Ramsland’s prose, though concise and clear, keeps readers at a distance. The author makes no real attempt to offer a thesis or draw any general conclusions; she simply accumulates facts in chronological order.
An enervating litany of research, dully presented.