Dead Men Do Tell Tales – Cannonball Read #29

Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of  a Forensic Anthropologist by William R. Maples, Ph.D. & Michael Browning.

My husband is an anthropology student and brought this book home. I caught him giggling and outright laughing as he read it so I picked it up as soon as he was done.

The early chapters deal with different means of body disposal, burial, dismemberment, etc. Other chapters focus on specific cases or famous corpses. No detail of the anthropologists work is spared and triumphs and enduring mysteries are presented side by side. The most affecting chapter is the one dealing with the identification of the remains of Tsar Nicholas and his family. Maples presents the most probable circumstances of their deaths. I was horrified when I read that the women had hidden jewels in their corsets that then acted as bullet proof vests. When the bullets didn’t kill them the Bolsheviks bludgeoned them to death.

Maples is the kind of person who should be in charge of everything. His elegant and inspiring prose evinces a passion for the truth, a clear vision of duty of the scientist and a commitment to the equality of all people. Each chapter begins with a passage from a poem. Not just fragments that seem pithy but truly affecting passages, evidence of a sensitive mind and a well read scientist. Instead of being gross or off-putting his candor regarding everything from how maggots consume a corpse to the effects of shark stomach acid on human bone had me smiling throughout the book. At times I laughed out loud at incredibly gruesome details. At other passages I wept quietly, moved by his  sincere depth of feeling towards the victims he strives to identify.

Books like this are obviously inspirations for procedurals like Bones. Unlike Temperance Brennan,  Maples is not hiding from humanity in academia. He is bringing humanity into it and restoring it to those who some other has stolen humanity from. Even as he is literally re-membering their corpses and returning their identities, he is confirming their membership in the human race.

If you like police procedurals such as C.S.I. or Bones this is a must read.  Inspirational and fascinating!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *