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American Sherlock: Book summary and reviews of American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson

American Sherlock

Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI

by Kate Winkler Dawson

American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson X
American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2020
    336 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

From the acclaimed author of Death in the Air ("Not since Devil in the White City has a book told such a harrowing tale" - Douglas Preston) comes the riveting story of the birth of criminal investigation in the twentieth century.

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities--beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books--sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least two thousand cases in his forty-year career. Known as the "American Sherlock Holmes," Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America's greatest--and first--forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.

Heinrich was one of the nation's first expert witnesses, working in a time when the turmoil of Prohibition led to sensationalized crime reporting and only a small, systematic study of evidence. However with his brilliance, and commanding presence in both the courtroom and at crime scenes, Heinrich spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious--some would say fatal--flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation.

Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon--as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Those interested in the development of modern forensics will be enthralled." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"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...An entertaining, absorbing combination of biography and true crime." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A fascinating book worthy of being associated with the title's literary sleuth. Readers will want a follow-up so they can discover more of Heinrich's cases as told through Dawson's great storytelling." - Library Journal

"Dawson combed Heinrich's own, voluminous papers to produce this entertaining read." - Booklist

"In American Sherlock, Kate Winkler Dawson brilliantly tracks the pioneering Edward Oscar Heinrich as he revolutionizes forensic science—the gritty work of studying bloodstains, identifying liars, and gathering faint traces of fingerprints—in the sometimes murky pursuit of justice. Equally entertaining and erudite, this is a work so cleverly conceived and structured, it reads like the best of Conan Doyle himself." - Karen Abbott, author of The Ghosts of Eden Park

"At last a book about the pioneering scientist, Edward Oscar Heinrich, whose early 20th century work helped launch modern criminal investigation. Part suspenseful detective story, part compelling character study, American Sherlock does full justice to Heinrich's starts, stumbles, and his startling brilliance." - Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

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Author Information

Kate Winkler Dawson

Kate Winkler Dawson is a seasoned documentary producer, whose work has appeared in the New York Times, WCBS News and ABC News Radio, PBS NewsHour, and Nightline. She is the author of Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City and teaches journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

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