The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics

The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics

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by James O'Brien
     
 

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One of the most popular and widely known characters in all of fiction, Sherlock Holmes has an enduring appeal based largely on his uncanny ability to make the most remarkable deductions from the most mundane facts. The very first words that Sherlock Holmes ever says to Dr. Watson are, "How are you? You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." Watson responds, "How on

Overview

One of the most popular and widely known characters in all of fiction, Sherlock Holmes has an enduring appeal based largely on his uncanny ability to make the most remarkable deductions from the most mundane facts. The very first words that Sherlock Holmes ever says to Dr. Watson are, "How are you? You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." Watson responds, "How on earth did you know that?" And so a crime-solving legend is born. In The Scientific Sherlock Holmes, James O'Brien provides an in-depth look at Holmes's use of science in his investigations. Indeed, one reason for Holmes's appeal is his frequent use of the scientific method and the vast scientific knowledge which he drew upon to solve mysteries. For instance, in heart of the book, the author reveals that Holmes was a pioneer of forensic science, making use of fingerprinting well before Scotland Yard itself had adopted the method. One of the more appealing aspects of the book is how the author includes real-world background on topics such as handwriting analysis, describing how it was used to capture the New York Zodiac killer and to clinch the case against the Lindbergh baby kidnapper. Sherlock Holmes was knowledgeable about several sciences, most notably chemistry. Therefore the book takes a close look at Holmes the chemist and discusses, for example, chemical poisons such as carbon monoxide, chloroform, and Prussic acid (the historical name for hydrogen cyanide). The author also debunks Isaac Asimov's famous assertion that Holmes was a blundering chemist. In addition, the book discusses mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy, meteorology, and geology, always in the context of Holmes's exploits. Sherlock Holmes continues to fascinate millions of readers and movie goers alike. The Scientific Sherlock Holmes is a must-read for the legion of fans of this most beloved of all fictional detectives.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
O’Brien, emeritus distinguished professor of chemistry at Missouri State University, delves deep into the science behind Sherlock Holmes in this brief and engaging volume. The book is clearly aimed at Holmes aficionados—each of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 60 stories featuring the detective are referenced via accepted Holmesian shorthand (e.g., “ABBE” for “The Abbey Grange”)—yet the author treats his subject and his associates (Doctor Watson, the long-suffering Mrs. Hudson, and Holmes’s bête noir, Professor Moriarty) with obvious affection, and it’s catching—his journey into Sherlockian science is both endearing and informative. O’Brien discusses Holmes’s investigative acumen according to categories of evidence (e.g., finger- and footprints, hand- and typewritten documents) and provides interesting real-life examples of crimes solved with similar techniques, such as the New York Zodiac killings and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. O’Brien, a loyal fellow test-tuber, devotes significant energy to defending Holmes against criticisms that he was a sorry chemist, and while the asides are interesting, the intensely detailed science behind the apologia might turn off casual readers. Nevertheless, the scientific rigor with which both scribe and subject approach their tasks is abundantly evident. Illus. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"The game is afoot with this welcome addition to the large and ever-growing body of literature about "the only unofficial consulting detective," Sherlock Holmes. O'Brien provides a new and stimulating slant on a subject that never seems to grow old. A triumph of deduction!" Joseph G. Pigeon, SOCB, Professor, Villanova University

"The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics presents a wonderful, fresh approach to the greatest fictional detective of all time. This book is ideal for anyone who has an interest in either Sherlock Homes, science in general, or forensic science in particular. A compelling cornucopia of forensic science applications is provided in the context of the specialized knowledge of Holmes in chemistry, mathematics, biology, and physics, and much more. O'Brien's book provides a window into the mind of Sherlock Holmes and the practice of deductive science reasoning." Tom Rybolt, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and coauthor of The Chemical Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

"O'Brien is persuasive when he says that science gives the stories a sense of plausibility and an authenticity that prior detective fiction lacked. Conan Doyle's fiction appropriates the authority of Victorian science; Holmes's forensic investigations allow readers to vicariously experience his scientific achievements in a setting more thrilling than a university laboratory."
— Jonathon Keats, New Scientist

"...highly recommended as a valuable addition to the library of Holmesians and Sherlockians everywhere." — Times (London) Higher Education Section

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199311576
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
01/02/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
677,993
File size:
23 MB
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This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Jim O'Brien is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Missouri State University. A lifelong fan of Holmes, O'Brien presented his paper "What Kind of Chemist Was Sherlock Holmes" at the 1992 national American Chemical Society meeting, which resulted in an invitation to write a chapter on Holmes the chemist in the book Chemistry and Science Fiction. O'Brien has since given over 120 lectures on Holmes and science. In 1996, O'Brien taught a college course on Holmes in London.

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The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Tom-Strong More than 1 year ago
I have never read a Sherlock Holmes story, but was interested to learn why a person who never lived could draw so much attention after more than a century. "The Scientific Sherlock Holmes" gave me the answer. It is a wonderful, fantastic book! I discovered why Holmes has held the interest of the public for the past ten decades, but the book taught me more than just about Holmes. The author discusses real life cases and weaves them into the story in a most innovative and captivating way. We are told of the history of fingerprints, footprints, chemistry, hand writing, typewriting, and so much more. We learn how actual cases, such as O.J. Simpson and the Charles Lindbergh kidnaping, are related to the Holmes stories. The author obviously did mountains of research to produce this epic. It captivated this non-Holmes fan. I give it a five star rating.