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Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death
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Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,012 ratings  ·  81 reviews
In this book, Sachs accompanies an eccentric group of entomologists, anthropologists, biochemists, and botanists - a new kind of biological "Mod Squad" - on some of their grisliest, most intractable cases. She takes us to the ultra-bizarre Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee, where scientists watch bodies decay in order to learn the secrets of decomposition and death. She ...more
Paperback, 270 pages
Published October 17th 2002 by Basic Books (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  1,012 ratings  ·  81 reviews

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Feb 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommended to Bettie by: FutureLearn friends

Description: When detectives come upon a murder victim, there's one thing they want to know above all else: When did the victim die? The answer can narrow a group of suspects, make or break an alibi, even assign a name to an unidentified body. But outside the fictional world of murder mysteries, time-of-death determinations have remained infamously elusive, bedeviling criminal investigators throughout history. Armed with an array of high-tech devices and tests, the world's best forensic
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If talk of maggots and decay turns your stomach, stop here. You probably won't enjoy this book.

But if you're a forensics junkie, run out and get Corpse right away. It's not only packed with interesting cases and people; it's the best book I've come across, in terms of clear writing and good research.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, a former editor of Science Digest, is a freelance science and health writer. She has a knack for making the gruesome fascinating and the mundane intriguing. And it all revolves
Jess Van Dyne-Evans
Astounding and interesting, although I bogged down a bit in the classifying bug section, which took up most of the middle of the book.
Rebecca Martin
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I glanced through this book and thought, "Hmm, this looks like too much science for me," but then I sat down and read the first 70 pages without looking up. This book is really a history of how researchers in different periods, from the early Greeks and the Chinese, have thought about and defined the moment of death. This history is told through stories and is definitely geared to the lay reader. The last third of the book enters the modern era (20th c. into the 21st) and so anyone who watches ...more
Katherine Addison
This is a very good book about the emergence of botany, entomology, and other unexpected sciences into the world of forensics.

It would have benefited from a better copy-editor, to catch typos like "wholistic" and a number of others that made the book look just slightly less than professional. Especially, someone should have caught the error Sachs makes in assuming corpus delicti means the body of the victim, when it means no such thing (as Ann Rule is frequently at pains to point out in her
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
At first, Sach's conversational style had me wondering if I'd learn anything new, but I was pleasantly surprised that I did! This book covers the history of the various branches of forensic science that are used to determine time of death. I've recently had a forensic science MOOC, so I already knew a great deal about forensic entomology and its applications. What I didn't learn much about in that course was its history. Sachs also covers the history behind the 3 types of mortis and forensic ...more
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Go ahead: Ask me anything about blow flies and maggots. I know all about them now—which is not exactly what I was expecting from this book. But interesting stuff nonetheless.
Melissa Dally
May 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
Covers the forensic aspects of death in a few new and unusual ways. Can sometimes get dry and you start thinking "bugs AGAIN" but overall was a very interesting read.
Oct 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
i need to re-read this book. very good.
Eileen Zong
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I would give this book four and a half stars. Jessica Sachs possesses the ability to weave dramatic writing with otherwise dry and convoluted topics. On its own, two hundred or so pages of pure forensics information would bore me to death (where I could then become a statistic in that very same field of writing, how ironic). However, the author knows this and avoids it by providing historical context with each topic: tales of scientific mishaps from the Greeks and Romans to 20th century America ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you are interested in forensics, taking a course at uni or college in forensics, and/or the science behind CSI or NCIS etc. This is an excellent introduction to using nature to assist with establishing the time of death in situations where a coroner can't establish one.

I myself found the botany interesting, as I have an interest in herbalism as well as being a scientist. My verdict. A must have on your bookshelf!
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very enjoyable read for anyone interested in this kind of subject matter. Lots of facts, figures, and great historical and contemporary information, and yet it never feels like a textbook. Excellent.
Cynthia Fountain
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting and informative.
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Those who know me know I read some pretty morbid stuff, both fiction and nonfiction. This is why one of my friends saw fit to lend me her copy of Jessica Snyder Sachs' Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death.

I fear my reputation may be more hardcore than I actually am, though, for I definitely had to stop eating at several points during this book, and I love to eat when I read.

This book presents a short but, as far as I can tell, fairly comprehensive overview of
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
For hundreds of years, scientists have been studying various ways to be able to tell what time of day someone died. The book “Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death” by Jessica Snyder Sachs explains many of these methods in great detail. By using real life public cases Sachs is able to explain and expand on how the detectives and police officers were able to determine who committed the crime. The main ideas that these methods are based off of are algor, livor, and ...more
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and engagingly written history of the forensic sciences and the hunt for an accurate determination of time of death. I read a significant portion of this during lunch breaks - I do not recommend that if you are even slightly squeamish.
Jan 26, 2008 rated it liked it
I found myself comparing this book to Mary Roach's Stiff, which isn't quite fair. Unlike Roach, whose book was as much a personal essay as an exploration of the topic of what happens to our bodies once we're done with them, Sachs takes a workmanlike approach to the somewhat related topic of forensics and determining when a given death occurred.

The book started out kind of slow, with a historical look at time of death, using the body itself as a determiner. Algor mortis (body temperature
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
When I was in high school, I briefly considered forensics, but discarded that career path because there was too much chemistry involved. Now I am a dentist and studying pathology. Life comes around, full circle, doesn't it? It's only natural that I pick this book up and consume it like a blowfly maggot on a freshly dead body.

What a great, excellent discussion on the quandary that pathologists, coroners and forensics are faced, with determining time of death. It literally could mean saving the
Kristin Snow
I grew up watching CSI, wanting to be a forensic lab tech up until high school, where all of our science classes were all about classifying animals and I lost interest. I only bring up the CSI franchise because they medical examiners always know exactly what time the victim had died, and could point a sure finger to the killer-- all within a 40 minute allotment of time (not including the commercials).From the first chapter up until the very last page, this book shows you why the real-life ...more
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As an avid murder mystery fan who reads Jefferson Bass, Patricia Cornwell, and other experts in death, I have enjoyed the perspective of the whys behind time of death reconstruction. The tools continue to develop and emerge with new science techniques. This book brings that research up to date for the reader.

If you are looking for something gruesome or simply based on detailed case studies, this is probably not the book for you. Although Sachs gives several examples of the application of systems
Jul 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime-forensics
Corpse – Nature, Forensics and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, by Jessica Snyder Sachs, explains the various methods – some of which are brand new and still developing – by which one can ascertain time of death. The methods involve a variety of fields – from entomology to botany and Ms. Sachs gives us a fascinating look not only at the processes by which each field contributes this knowledge, but also those individuals who first developed – and in some cases, continue to refine - those ...more
Apr 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, work
The Quote for the first chapter - traditional medical maxim..."The psychiatrist knows nothing and does nothing, the surgeon knows nothing and does everything, The pathologist knows everything...but is always a day too late."

and the Quote from the last chapter - Andre Gide (1869-1951)..."Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it."

I finished this book just now, a few minutes after midnight on the 16th. I am loving this book. I won't say the whole book was engrossing, or that
Sep 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book was very interesting. It goes through the natural processes that occur to the body after death (before reading it, I didn't realize there were different types of "mortis" ~ rigor, livor, algor, and pallor). While the book isn't exactly graphic, it does talk about death in clinical ways, mentioning forensic entomology (insects and how they grow on the body after death) and specific experiments scientists undertake to study the effects of decomposition on remains.

I found the prose easy
Jul 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
From an review: Examining a dozen case studies that touch on the contents of Nicole Brown Simpson's stomach, a felled Confederate soldier's skull, the methods of an English serial killer, and the contribution of an Indiana-based student of maggots to the forensic ecology of human remains, Sachs explores the means by which pathologists measure the interval between death and a body's discovery--a determination with often profound implications. Sachs's book is a lucid, oddly fascinating ...more
Jun 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, medicine, science
This is a book about the history of medical examination. It was written in 2001, which tempers my criticism that the book largely focuses on older sciences - entomology and botany - versus the newer techniques of gas chromatography or DNA identification to establish time of death. The history aspect was mildly interesting, the bit on flies was not, and the last chapter on new techniques was the most interesting, being the reason why I picked up the book in the first place. That being said, I ...more
Sep 17, 2007 rated it liked it
Found the "uncorrected page proofs" for this book in a free-box from the local public radio station at a renewable energy fair of all places. The more you get into it, the more engrossing it gets. Some of the anecdotes seem thrown in for gross-out effect, the descriptions of the entomologists and anthropologists maybe pulling a bit too hard, but overall a great view into this actually rather fascinating arena. Text also serves as great fodder for book art / collage projects. Especially the juicy ...more
Sep 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
If only the publisher had included a bibliography, I would have given this book five stars. It's obviously exhaustively researched, as well as entertaining and informative. That said, I follow up on bibliographies, and the lack of one in this book is a tragedy, as I flagged several points throughout that I would have liked to read more about.

I particularly recommend this book to fans of the TV show Bones, as it traces the history of the various fields of study showcased in that fictional
Apr 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Sachs delves into the history of the forensic sciences that contribute to the determination of time of death. I was trained as a biological anthropologist and many of my colleagues are featured in the book. Even without that, my love of a good mystery would have led me to finish it. I came away with a new appreciation for the many possible sources of data that can be used to determine time of death. I recommend it to any mystery reader who is not too squeamish.
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, forensics
As a forensic junkie, I found this book thoroughly engrossing and fascinating. This work of nonfiction is definitely geared for the layperson. Scientific terms and concepts are clearly explained and demonstrated with examples. The historical perspective was fascinating too. I highly recommend this book for any forensic junke who isn't grossed out by maggots and other descriptions related to death.
Jan 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, nerd-books
This was a very well written, easy to read, overview of what happens to our bodies when we die and how the different branches of forensics science have developed over time. The book was an easy read and had a lot of information, but I didn't feel like I was back in school. Instead I was just having a chat with a friend who knows a LOT about something I find interesting. Ok maybe several lunches over a week...but definitely a worthwhile read.
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Jessica Snyder Sachs is a contributing editor to Popular Science and writes regularly for Discover, National Wildlife, Health, Parenting, and other national publications. Prior to becoming a full-time freelance writer in 1991, she was the managing editor of Science Digest.

As an adjunct professor, Jessica teaches feature writing and writing for magazines, most recently at Seton Hall University.