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The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist Paperback – July 1, 2000
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From Kirkus Reviews
A subtly creepy collection of stories culled from the experiences of a leading forensic anthropologist. Manhein describes her role as an expert witness as the laying out of her analysis to the jury without a lot of unexplained scientific jargonthe exact technique she employs in this account. While one of her goals seems to be teaching the public about the field of forensic anthropology, she never loses sight of her main intention, the spinning of a good story. The result is a rare, effective blend of entertainment and education. As we follow Manhein into the Louisiana bayou, where she digs up the levee to claim a five-year-old corpse, into industrial fires where victims bodies lie unrecovered, into cemeteries both old, newly discovered, and improvised, under houses, and into the forest to examine the bones of potentially mistreated horses, we learn about identifying bodies through dental X-rays, bone composition, and facial reconstruction. It is the same combination of the desire to solve puzzles and a fascination with death that led Manhein into her field and which also compels the reader to move quickly from one story to the next. Whether she is describing a human skull being pulled up in a fishing net or her nervousness at testifying in court, she maintains a grounded eye for detail and a compassionately detached style which renders the subject matter interesting rather than gruesome. While many of Manhein's cases have attracted media attention, most notably the exhumation of the killer of Huey Long, the book primarily focuses on the much less glamorous side of the fieldthe identification of drowning victims sometimes years after their deaths, or the discovery that those bones in the yard belonged to the previous owners pet dog. Despite the morbid nature of her work, she loves what she does and communicates that enthusiasm in her absorbing harrative. (illustrations) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From the Back Cover
THE RIVETING TALE OF A TRUE-LIFE CRIME-FIGHTING SCIENTIFIC SLEUTH
When a skeleton is all that's left to tell the story of a crime, Mary Manhein, otherwise known as "the bone lady", is called in. For almost two decades, Manhein has used her expertise in forensic anthropology to help law enforcement agents -- locally, nationally, and internationally -- solve their most perplexing mysteries. In this eerie book she shares the extraordinary details of the often high-profile cases on which she works, and the science underlying her analyses. Here are the fascinating details of how, from a pile of bones, she assesses age, sex, race, signs of trauma, and time of death, and how she can even use clay to re-create a face.
Written with the compassion and humor of a born storyteller, The Bone Lady is an unforgettable glimpse into the lab where one scientist works to reveal the human stories behind the remains.
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A gifted story teller, she provides an articulate recital of her childhood, then marriage, and finally 'matriculating' at age 33; and she then delves into a dozen or so intriguing cases where she is asked to help provide identification of remains, often just bones and thus she acquires rank as 'The Bone Lady,' and later fellowhip distinction (FAAFS). The medley of cases provide some modicum about similariy of mammalian bones, grave sites, viewing windows in cast-iron coffins, insights into aging of bone, and differentiation of male vs. female remains.
The book yields the "feeling" of field forensics by touching on the politics, stenches, miseries, hazards, grief, closure, and those too few triumphs unearthed by 'The Bone Lady." It is well written and easy to read and priced just right.
With that being said...
After reading Ms. Manhein's book I am very disappointed, upon purchasing the text I was looking forward to learning something new that only someone in the field could teach me, but after the first few chapters, I found her writing simplistic and her chapters short. I do not know if the author was attempting to dumb down her writing for the masses or if she just didn't have much to write. But her book leaves much to be desired.
For someone who is a novice in the field, an avid Bones watcher who just finds this fascinating and needs to have things like "skull" and "cranium" defined individually then this is perfect for them. She tends to blend her stories with the science seamlessly and while I there may have not been enough science for my tastes I cannot deny that that makes the book an easy read.
If you are looking for a little to no-fluff book that describes the situation and science with little conjecture, this is not for you. I would suggest another text titled, Dead Men Do Tell Tales by Dr. Maples.