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Corpse explores just one of the fascinating histories of forensic science. In 44 BC, a physician named Antistius examined the fresh corpse of Julius Caesar and, in science journalist Jessica Sachs's words, "announced that he knew which of the would-be emperor's twenty-three stab wounds had proved fatal", thus giving birth to a new science.
In making his announcement "before the forum"--the origin of the term forensics--Antistius relied on the medical knowledge of the day, which was none too developed. His modern counterparts have much better science at their disposal to account for causes of death, which, Sachs notes, tend to be "usually more than obvious to every police officer responding to the scene." Less obvious, and far more elusive, is the exact time death occurred, the datum that forensic pathologists seek to obtain but usually have to guess at, hampered "by death's infinite variations." Examining a dozen case studies that touch on the contents of Nicole Brown Simpson's stomach, a felled Confederate soldier's skull, the methods ofan English serial killer, and the contribution of an Indiana-based student of maggots to the forensic ecology of human remains, among other matters, Sachs explores the means by which those pathologists measure the interval between death and a body's discovery--a determin!!ation with often profound implications.
Sachs's book is a lucid, oddly fascinating work of popular science, though it's not for the queasy of stomach or the faint of heart. --Gregory McNamee [via]