The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science

Little, Brown. Jul. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780316496506. $29. CRIME
In this witty, thought-provoking book, best-selling author Kean (The Bastard Brigade; The Disappearing Spoon) explores crimes committed in the name of scientific discovery. He examines scientists throughout history whose pursuit of knowledge took a disturbing turn but often led to discoveries with lasting impacts. Readers meet figures across the sciences, from 17th-century pirate/biologist William Dampier, who set the stage for colonialism and biopiracy, to psychologists who experimented with brutal interrogation techniques, to crooked crime labs relying on fraudulent forensics. Kean addresses the effects of these crimes and links them to ongoing conversations around topics such as gender, mental health care, and animal testing. Citing the Tuskegee study of syphilis, as well as naturalists who “piggybacked on the transatlantic slave trade to gather facts and collect specimens,” he also considers the role of racism in scientific exploitation. The book concludes with thoughtful musings on new scientific territories that are ripe for crime, including space exploration and artificial intelligence. Kean is a powerful, exciting storyteller who deftly considers ethical questions within an engaging narrative.
VERDICT A lively, compelling addition to the true crime and popular science genres. Morbidly curious readers may also enjoy Gory Details, by Erika Engelhaupt.
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