With shows such as CSI and novels by Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, it's hard to remember that forensic analysis of dead bodies used to be non-existent. No one was able to look at a decomposed body and tease out the story that it told. That all changed with the Body Farm, the forensics laboratory created by Dr. Bill Bass. With the help of Jon Jefferson, Bass tells the story of how the Body Farm came to be in the book Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales. Bass is an entertaining storyteller, and it's interesting to see how a single person was able to have such a dramatic impact on bringing killers to justice.
Contents: The Bones of the Eaglet; Dead Indians and Dam Engineers; Bare Bones - Forensics 101; The Unsavory Uncle; The Case of the Headless Corpse; The Scene of the Crime; Death's Acre - The Body Farm Is Born; A Bug for Research; Progress and Protest; Fat Sam and Cadillac Joe; Grounded in Science; The Zoo Man Murders; Parts Unknown; Art Imitates Death; More Progress, More Protest; The Backyard Barbecue; The Not-So-Accidental Tourist; The Bloody Beneficiary; Ashes to Ashes; And When I Die; Appendix I - Bones of the Human Skeleton; Appendix II - Glossary of Forensic and Anthropological Terms; Acknowledgments; Index
Death's Acre was written back in 2003, so a number of years have passed. Even so, the material holds up well. The collaboration of Bass and Jefferson makes this a much better read that I expected. These two have written a number of forensic novels under the pen name of Jefferson Bass, and their ongoing collaboration can be seen here. The different stories told by Bass are used as a framework to weave the story of how the Body Farm came to be. Often these types of books end up as either disjointed reminiscing or a chronological history of the person's life and career. Neither of those extremes happen in Death's Acre, and the result is entertaining and educational. The writing also brings out Bass's respect of the dead, and his humility at being entrusted with the remains of people who once had lives, families, and loved ones. Yes, what he does with the remains can easily be viewed as morbid or disgusting. But he never seems to lose sight of the fact that the sacrifices of these people will help others find answers if and when their loved ones are victims of killers who may avoid capture and justice without the information Bass discovers.
Death's Acre is pretty much required reading for fans of forensic TV shows and novels. It provides the necessary context as to how a murder can be solved by the presence or absence of a single insect.
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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In this memoir, Bass, a premier forensic anthropologist, recounts how a life spent studying dead bodies led to the creation of "The Anthropolgy Research Facility" (aka the Body Farm), a plot of land near the University of Tennessee Medical Center where Bass and his colleagues monitor the decomposition of human corpses in various environments. The book is structured around the 1981 creation of the Body Farm, and the early chapters focus on some of Bass's trickier cases to demonstrate his need for more information about the science of forensics. The later chapters take a closer look at how the scientific analysis of Body Farm corpses has helped Bass and other anthropologists solve some of the toughest and most bizarre cases of their distinguished careers. Though professional and conscientious when describing the medical facts of each case, Bass, writing with journalist Jefferson, proves to be a witty storyteller with a welcome sense of humor. He also does a nice job balancing accounts of death and decomposition with decidedly not-so-morbid tidbits from his personal life. Furthermore, the poignancy of how he reacts to the deaths of his first two wives reflects the compassion he feels for the dead and their surviving family members he encounters in his working life. Bass may deal with the dead, but he has a lust for life that comes across in his writing. While the grisly details may not make this a must-read for everyone, those who do pick it up might just be pleasantly surprised...