Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Nature of Life and Death

The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace by Patricia Wiltshire
Penguin Random House: 9/3/19
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525542216

The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace by Patricia Wiltshire is a highly recommended account of a pioneer in forensic ecology.

Patricia Wiltshire share stories from several of the cases she's been an investigator on as well as personal stories from her life.  Wiltshire is an expert palynologist—somebody who analyses pollen grains and other spores. "When a crime has been committed, my role is to read and present the possibilities told by the grains of pollen, the fungi, lichens, and micro‑ organisms that have been retrieved, to try and piece together facts from the natural world." It is a fascinating area of study and she adroitly explains how she uses her knowledge to help solve real cases in the UK. This is real scientist working on an investigation, not an excerpt of a CSI episode. The unseen world all around us and underneath our feet does touch and actually cling to us every day. This includes plants, animals, pollen, spores, fungi, and microbes. They can mark where we have been as surely as a map.

In between walking us through some of her cases, she also shares some of her biographical background. Although this is not strictly a biography, it does intermingle stories from her professional scientific work with her upbringing and background - and, you know, sometimes when and where you were raised and some of the particulars of your childhood do influence your life as an adult. Those who believe in an afterlife will want to take note that Wiltshire does not and succinctly shares her belief that once dead, a person will simple be reduced to the elements which the body contains.
The case studies are fascinating and that alone is deserving of a higher rating, even though sometime the personal opinions shared are a bit too sharp. It might have served Wiltshire better if she decided on either a biography or a series of interesting case studies. I would be up for reading either, but the mix between the two was sometimes incongruous. When presenting the cases, Wiltshire is at her best, explain how she determined vital clues bases on the microscopic evidence she found. I found the cases and her investigations to be captivating and could esily breeze through the biographical or opinion parts of the book.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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