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The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  411 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death offers readers an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a master criminal investigator. Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy grandmother, founded the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard in 1936 and was later appointed captain in the New Hampshire police. In the 1940s and 1950s she built dollhouse crime scenes based on real cases in ...more
Hardcover, 225 pages
Published September 28th 2004 by The Monacelli Press
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Apr 29, 2008 Debra rated it it was amazing
When we lived in DC for a few months we heard of this amazing museum of miniatures, open by appointment only, in the Office of the Medical Examiner in the murder capital of the U.S., Baltimore. David Byrne had mentioned it as one of his 10 favorite things in his hometown of Baltimore and when we went, with a special appointment weeks in advance, his name was just three before ours in the guestbook. The 25 or so diaoramas were made in exacting miniature by a Mother Jones looking bespectacled gran ...more
Feb 27, 2008 Paul rated it it was ok
This one was a vast disappointment. The photography of the minature panoramas was at once top notch, beautiful intricate details, and also quite lacking, as the minatures were rarely-to-never seen in whole, so that their size could be gauged, and so that they could be appreciated for what they were. It reminded me of porn that focuses on genitalia, rather than people.

Moreover, the author spent way too much time quoting this and that, and the quotes were hardly ever pertinent to the material. It
Jan 08, 2009 Lizzie rated it it was ok
A big disappointment. It's photographs of meticulous miniature scenes, made by a woman who was a forensics professor to train detectives. So the very idea of that is rather cool, but that's about it. They took a quirky interesting thing and attempted to spin it into something dep and profound. The photos show the level of detail but are more artsy than revealing. They don't give any sense of scale and many things mentioned in the text aren't shown.

Then, there's the text which reads like a gende
Anita Dalton
This book is amazing. Though the content is likely a bit morbid for most to consider it a coffee table book, had I coffee table, it would definitely be prominently displayed on mine. The book discusses the career of Frances Glessner Lee, a woman Corinne May Botz describes as: "brilliant, witty, and, by some accounts, impossible woman. She gave you what she thought you should have, rather than what you might actually want. She had a wonderful sense of humor about everything and everyone, excludin ...more
Mar 19, 2012 Carolyn rated it liked it
I had to read this book after watching the documentary "Of Dolls and Murder" about Frances Glessner Lee's miniature crime scenes, and I'm glad I did the interlibrary loan option rather than spending money on it. On the plus side, it does cover all 18 surviving Nutshell Studies but Botz's coverage is haphazard, ranging from serious suggestions for forensic analysis to attempts at random symbology. (E.g., she highlights the print hanging over the bed in the Red Bedroom scene as "Moose Painting. Ac ...more
Alessandra Dreyer
Sep 21, 2011 Alessandra Dreyer rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
A beautifully shot book that really allows for the bizarre and utterly gripping work of Frances Glessner Lee to shine. Botz allows Lee's work to shine without much fuss. You can't put it down until the last page is seen.
Apr 19, 2015 Maureen rated it really liked it
The perfect coffin table book for the woman who has everything.
Oct 12, 2014 Chuck rated it liked it
One of the odder and more fascinating books I have seen lately.
Read our conversation about the book at
Aug 02, 2015 Narrelle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, crime
I first saw Corinne May Botz’s book, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York. It is a collection of art photos taken of Frances Glessner Lee’s dollhouse recreations of murder scenes.

The dioramas were not merely macabre toys put together by a fan of true crime. Lee painstakingly created the scenarios in the 1940s and 50s for a very serious purpose: training investigating police on the correct scientific methods of approaching crime scenes, observing all
Becky Loader
May 20, 2014 Becky Loader rated it it was amazing
Frances Glessner Lee was a woman who knew her mind from an early age. In 1878,she was born into wealth as the heiress to the International Harvester fortune and was determined not to be the typical female of the time. Denied college by her father, who believed ladies did not need an education, Frances was a life-long learner with attention to detail and manual skills.

Frances became interested in forensic medicine when her brother brought home a friend from Harvard who was a medical student with
Mar 17, 2012 Christiane rated it liked it
This is probably one of the oddest books I've ever seen. It is a beautifully photographed collection of little dollhouse dioramas of murder scenes built in the 1940s and 50s and based on real crime scenes. The level of detail is absolutely astonishing. Tiny little carpets are realistically frayed. Dishes on a table have scraps of food. Slippers are casually left on a bathmat. Clothes hang on a clothesline from teensy clothes pins. And then there are the dolls with their itsy cut throats and bloo ...more
Jul 30, 2014 Min rated it it was ok
Shelves: library, 2014
The images - beautiful. Though, I would have liked to see them in their entirety, too; not just shots of certain things.
I agree with the others that the 'information' provided in the numbered diagrams is largely irrelevant to the scene depicted. Which is unfortunate, as the models are gorgeous and very detailed.
I, too, found it frustrating to not know the answers to the murders. Though, the book says these are still in use as a training tool so I guess I can understand that. Still, it annoyed m
Mar 28, 2012 Nan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I saw the documentary Of Dolls and Murder which prompted pulling this book out from the closed stacks at the library. Frances Glessner Lee created minature dioramas of crime scenes in the 1930s and 40s to help train detectives on observation and how to think more like medical examiners. This author, Corinne May Botz, did amazing photographs of these Nutshell Studies. I am totally fascinated by a society lady, the heir to the International Harvester fortune, who after her parents died, she got di ...more
Alyson Dickerman
Aug 20, 2016 Alyson Dickerman rated it really liked it
A very interesting photo book of 1940s Era crime scene dioramas. Created by a wealthy, and bitterly unfulfilled education -wise, society woman named Frances Glessner Lee, these "nutshell studies" were meticulously created in order to provide detectives in-depth training when examining crime scenes. They are based on real crimes, but were not meant to be solved. The stories are very interesting, and the photos are striking. However, some of the text in remarkably pretentious and some of the effor ...more
Patrick Seymour
Dec 29, 2013 Patrick Seymour rated it liked it
This book was a bit of a let down. Frances Glessner Lee's dioramas are amazing and I am glad there is a book about her and her work. However, this book did not do it justice. The photography was good, but as other people mentioned you rarely got to see more than a few pieces of each room, never as a whole. The introduction and background on Lee was wandering and could have used some editing. Finally if you want to play amateur detective and try to piece together what happened in these dioramas a ...more
Nov 23, 2009 Heather rated it really liked it
a neat little look at what happens when an intelligent, creative woman is faced with the oppression of gender expections; creepy death scenes in miniature. don't be fooled by the macabre surface; much of the book is concerned with gendered modes of creative expression. still you don't have to be a feminist to appreciate the craft and ingenuity of the nutshell studies. ms. botz photos are great, and each "study" represents a unique mystery. only a handful of the solutions are revealed at the end, ...more
Dec 16, 2016 Pat rated it it was amazing
As a fan of murder mysteries, I appreciate the focus (though not the writing). But I didn't buy this book for the mysteries; I bought it for the miniature scenes. As a collector of dollhouse miniatures, I can only say, "Wow." The scenes are amazing, with spectacular detail. That's what my 5 stars are for: the rooms are well photographed, and it's possible to really appreciate the work that went into building these rooms.
Sep 03, 2013 Kayla rated it did not like it
I was not satisfied with this book. There was a bunch of text in the beginning and the rest of the book was dollhouse like pictures of crime scenes. That was it. Not much info on the crime scenes themselves as much as on the photographer and way the scenes were set up. I think I was expecting more on the crime scenes themselves and because of that I was greatly disappointed. I got this as a gift and it was promptly returned. Not so much the books fault, maybe just my expectations.
Jul 08, 2008 Liz rated it really liked it
While the photographs in this book are executed with interesting camera angles and dramatic lighting, they sadly don't ever show the miniature scenes in their entirety. Illustrated room overviews were coupled with teasing descriptions of things not visible in the photographs. On the other hand, the photos do show the incredible amount of work and the amazing details put into each scene. It has convinced me that I need to see the Nutshells in person. Anyone want to take a trip to Baltimore?
Mar 04, 2015 Wendy rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
I am fascinated by Frances Glessner Lee, who created the Nutshell Studies. I originally learned about her through a podcast, and have been doing more research. In the 30's & 40's she created crime scenes on a 1"=1' scale, which were then used to train police officers on forensics. They are still in use in Maryland, and I'm dying to go see them! Also having some interesting thoughts about renovating the dollhouse my grandpa made me when I was little. :)
Apr 29, 2011 Beth rated it really liked it
In the 1930s, Frances Glessner Lee, who apparently had a lot of time on her hands and no other use for her dollhouse hobby, created a series of death scenes that are used for training by investigators. Botz went through and photographed some of these scenes, and for very few, provided explanations of whether is was an accidental death, murder, or suicide. I have learned throughout this book that I would make a crappy investigator. Still, fun to look at.
Mar 09, 2008 Flora rated it it was amazing
This book is AMAZING. It's about Frances Glessner Lee, who was a New Hampshire police captain and founded Harvard's Department of Legal Medicine in 1936. The "nutshell studies" were little dollhouses/dioramas of crime scenes used for the training of detectives. Oh. I'm verklempt just thinking about how much I love this book.
Michael Braithwaite
Jan 06, 2008 Michael Braithwaite rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Bonni
Here's the deal. This is an amazing book about an old woman in the beginning of the 20th century who came from money and decided to spend her life reconstructing crime scenes dioramas with dollhouse furniture and fake blood.
She was an incredible woman and this book contains some incredible photos.
Sep 17, 2015 Slmstanley rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book - I just wish the photographs had been a little clearer and more comprehensive. However, the detail on these little dioramas - built to help train police officers - is amazing, and I would love to see them up close.
Nov 16, 2010 Jane rated it liked it
I adore books about eccentrics. This one is a doozy: a pent-up socialite takes to modeling tiny dioramas of death to promote forensic training for policemen. Seriously. Haven't read one as good as this since The Queen of Whale Cay.
George Harris
Aug 03, 2014 George Harris rated it really liked it
Interesting look at Frances Glesner Lee, an intelligent woman confined by the social expectation of the age who nevertheless was able to find an outlet for her interest in the burgeoning field of legal medicine.
Winter Branch
Oct 13, 2009 Winter Branch rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Very neat and worth checking out. I love returning to this book from time to time, eventually my friend will probably stop letting me borrow it. ^_^ I just need to track down a copy of my own to add to my bookshelf.

Jan 15, 2016 Fishface rated it really liked it
A really interesting read about the creation of a series of death-scene tableaux used to train law enforcement in how to notice, interpret and preserve crime-scene evidence. The backstory is remarkable, as is the creator of the dioramas. Really worth a look.
Sep 22, 2007 Meredith rated it liked it
Shelves: art
Such an eerie bit of weirdness...made more incredible by the fact that the murder scenes were first constructed by a police inspector. I'm not sure I feel the photographs speak to May Botz's own skills as a photographer, but they're still quite interesting to look at.
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