SCIENCES

The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace

Putnam. Sept. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9780525542216. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525542247. SCI
COPY ISBN
Forensic ecologist Wiltshire writes a fascinating book about a practical yet unusual application of botanical science—investigating the causes of unnatural deaths, such as murders. The narrative shifts between autobiographical passages about Wiltshire’s personal life and more scientific descriptions of cases she worked on throughout her long career. Wiltshire, a trained botanist with a specialty in palynology, the study of pollen, uses her expertise to identify how and when individuals died to ascertain the truth of what suspects tell investigators about sequences of events and locations and to find resolution for cases that might otherwise be difficult to solve. Besides pollen, the author considers the hidden world of spores, fungi, and microbes. Because of the descriptions of human remains (and the featuring of a body farm), the book is reminiscent at times of Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and also the television show Bones. It’s strongest when Wiltshire sticks to science; the more intimate passages add an element of interest but pale in comparison to descriptions of case work and botanical topics.
VERDICT Fascinating for readers who enjoy science, including ecology and botany, and who aren’t too squeamish.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RELATED 

TOP STORIES

LIBRARY EDUCATION

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COMMUNITY FORM

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.