Blood, Bullets, and Bones
There's that old saying that there are only two sure things in life: death and taxes. Well now, that tax season is coming to a close, I present a collection of non-fiction that I found fascinating about our ever-evolving relationships with death, as individuals and as a society - from how we mourn or celebrate our dead to how we solve and deal with murder. Because although taxes may be a sure thing too, doing them is far less interesting than the following books:
1. The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders
Murder as entertainment or spectacle isn't a modern concept, even with the proliferation of true-crime novels and police procedural shows in popular culture of recent decades. Murder as a spectacle, and the art of detection came to prominence in the Victorian era, when crimes of such brutality weren't terribly common and a subject of intense public fascination.
2. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust
In relation to current US population, the death toll during the American Civil War would be equivalent to 6 million lives lost in our own backyards. The Civil War forced Americans to face death in ways they never had before, shaking their practices of mourning, shaping their politics, and undermining many of their deeply-held spiritual beliefs. Faust examines how this direct confrontation of death between neighbors on such a massive scale forever shaped the way we grieve and process death and what comes after.
3. For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz
The sensational case of two sons of privilege murdering a young boy because they were too smart not to get away with it changed the way many thought about capital punishment, thanks to an impassioned defense by Clarence Darrow, then the most famous lawyer in America.
Called the "trial of the century," the Leopold and Loeb case in 1924 continues to inspire plays and movies, including 1948's Rope by Alfred Hitchcock and the 2002 Ryan Gosling film Murder By Numbers
4. Dead Presidents: An American Adventure Into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation's Leaders by Brady Carlson
It makes sense that some of the most well-documented lives in American History - those of our Presidents - would continue to evolve even after their passing. From assassinations to famous monuments to stories of misplaced bodies, Carlson clarifies and delves into the legacies of these famous men, long after they had any say in them.
5. Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
What happens to our physical bodies may not always be as simple as the usual burial or cremation, especially when someone chooses to donate their body for research. From body farms used for forensic insight, to real-life crash test dummies, to important advances in medical research, Roach explores the ways our bodies can take on a life of their own, even after death. Like Spook, Roach's book on the more metaphysical aspects of the afterlife, Stiff is accessible and often humorous in its examination of the practicalities of what happens to us after we die.
6. Blood, Bullets, and Bones: The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA by Bridget Heos
Forensic methods for solving crimes have been around for centuries, long before DNA evidence became standard procedure and countless detective shows relied on their lab technicians for crucial plot twists. Heos explores methods both ancient and modern that have been used to solve real cases, everything from advances in photography, to studying how bodies decompose, to analyzing fingerprints and criminal profiling.