Saturday, February 21, 2009

Beyond the Body Farm by Bill Bass & Jon Jefferson

Beyond the Body Farm

Beyond the Body Farm
by Bill Bass & Jon Jefferson

Hardback: 282 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
First Released: 2007

Buy from Amazon

Source: Library

Description from Back Cover:
There is no scientist in the world like Dr. Bill Bass. A pioneer in forensic anthropology, Bass created the world's first laboratory dedicated to the study of human decomposition—three acres of land on a hillside in Tennessee where human bodies are left to the elements. His research at "the Body Farm" has revolutionized forensic science, helping police crack cold cases and pinpoint time of death. But during a forensics career that spans half a century, Bass and his work have ranged far beyond the gates of the Body Farm. In this riveting book, the bone sleuth explores the rise of modern forensic science, using fascinating cases from his career to take readers into the real world of C.S.I.

Some of Bill Bass's cases rely on the simplest of tools and techniques, such as reassembling—from battered torsos and a stack of severed limbs—eleven people hurled skyward by an explosion at an illegal fireworks factory. Other cases hinge on sophisticated techniques Bass could not have imagined when he began his career: harnessing scanning electron microscopy to detect trace elements in knife wounds; and extracting DNA from a long-buried corpse, only to find that the female murder victim may have been mistakenly identified a quarter-century before.

In Beyond the Body Farm, readers will follow Bass as he explores the depths of an East Tennessee lake with a twenty-first-century sonar system, in a quest for an airplane that disappeared with two people on board thirty-five years ago; see Bass exhume fifties pop star "the Big Bopper" to determine what injuries he suffered in the plane crash that killed three rock and roll legends on "the day the music died"; and join Bass as he works to decipher an ancient Persian death scene nearly three thousand years old. Witty and engaging, Bass dissects the methods used by homicide investigators every day, leading readers on an extraordinary journey into the high-tech science that it takes to crack a case.

This book is more a memoir than a straight fact-book on forensic anthropology. Bill Bass describes the cases primarily from the viewpoint of the part he played rather than the case as a whole, though he does tell us how the cases end. He gives information on the places the cases occurred, the things that happened to him, and how he felt during the case as well as information about the case and the methods he and his students used to identify the bodies and the murderers.

He is usually working with bare bones, so much of the book isn't very gruesome. However, if reading about maggots eating human flesh or detailed descriptions of bodies mangled from an explosion turns your stomach, you might want to re-think reading this book.

Overall, the book is well-written, interesting, and moves along at a good pace.

Excerpt: Chapter One
The Golden Bowl, The Burning Palace: Applying Modern Science to Ancient Bones

As fans of the television series CSI know, death scenes can capture a wealth of detail about what happens in the instant when human life is snuffed out--even, I can say with certainty, when that instant occurred nearly three thousand years ago.

More than four decades ago and six thousand miles away, I had one of my most memorable experiences in applying the tools of archaeology and anthropology to the question of forensic science. The death scene lay in the ancient hilltop citadel of Hasanlu, in northwestern Iran, where a fierce army attacked the massive fortress, breached its mighty walls, and brought down its palace and temple in a rain of blood and fire. Hundreds had died in the battle and the blaze, but I was focusing on three of the dead, who were unearthed in a particularly dramatic discovery in the ruins.

Midway through the project, though, I began to fear that a fourth death might soon be involved: my own. As I lay doubled over, delirious for days on end, my circumstances may have been less heroic than those of the ancient warriors whose bones had drawn me here, but the setting--the way of life, the nearness of death, even the practice of medicine--had changed little in the twenty-eight centuries since the fortress fell.

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