Home / Books / Book Reviews / Book Review: The Real World of a Forensic Scientist by Dr. Henry C. Lee, Elaine M. Pagliaro, and Katherine Ramsland

Book Review: The Real World of a Forensic Scientist by Dr. Henry C. Lee, Elaine M. Pagliaro, and Katherine Ramsland

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When it comes to true crime, forensics and all things associated, I am a bit of an addict.  I have always been intrigued with this facet of the human psyche and when I was given the opportunity to read and review The Real World of a Forensic Scientist: Renowned Experts Reveal What it Takes to Solve Crimes I was thrilled and ready to delve right in.  Divided into several chapters which focus on different aspects of what is gone through to solve even the most heinous and thought to be well covered up crimes, readers will learn in-depth information about fingerprint evidence, firearms evidence, trace evidence, chemical evidence, DNA, forensic drug analysis and toxicology as well as learn about the science of forensics through a historical perspective and viewpoint. 

When I began reading, however, I was disappointed to discover the book is very legal-centered and resource oriented.  Meaning that it would make an excellent book for those researching material on forensics and for those needing technical information on such topics mentioned above.  However as a “curious” sort of read, more for entertainment and learning about forensics in a not-so-formulaic way, The Real World of a Forensic Scientist is not the greatest choice, at least in my personal opinion.  Parts are interesting and intriguing, and learning more about the personal life and career of the well-known Dr. Henry C. Lee is also interesting. 

Overall, however, I found this to be a rather dry read.  I also want to mention that along with much detailed information, there are several photographs spread throughout the book, as well as a center collection of colored photographs taken from true crime scenes, including the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case, the Kennedy assassination, and a portion of the ransom note sent to Charles Lindbergh after the kidnapping of his son, and times during Dr. Lee’s life and investigative teams.

In summary, if you are looking for an in-depth, informative and legally aimed book on forensics, The Real World of a Forensic Scientist is an excellent choice.  However, if you are looking for a more entertaining sort of look at forensics, then I would look for something else. But if you stay with The Real World, parts of the book are rather interesting and may pique readers’ curiousity.  With this one, I would definitely do a borrow or browse before purchasing.

The following is a short excerpt to give readers a bit of a feel for The Real World of a Forensic Scientist and what it entails:

Creating the first crime lab

The United States’ first forensic laboratory was established in 1923 by August Volmer in the Los Angeles Police Department. Shortly thereafter, the first private forensic lab was created in Chicago in 1929 as a result of the investigation of Chicago’s infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (see nearby sidebar). This case involved the expertise of Calvin Goddard, then America’s leading firearms identification expert, who was able to link the killings to Al “Scarface” Capone.

Two businessmen who served on the coroner’s inquest jury were so impressed with Goddard and his scientific use of firearms identification that they funded the development of a crime lab at Northwestern University. The lab brought together the disciplines of firearms identification, blood analysis, fingerprinting, and trace evidence analysis and served as a prototype for other labs.


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About April Pohren