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American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  726 ratings  ·  138 reviews
From the acclaimed author of Death in the Air ("Not since Devil in the White City has a book told such a harrowing tale"--Douglas Preston) comes the riveting story of the birth of criminal investigation in the twentieth century.

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities--beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books--sat an
Kindle Edition, 335 pages
Published February 11th 2020 by G.P. Putnam's Sons
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Jeremy I haven't read The Poisoner's Handbook, but it seems like they were pioneers in different areas. Heinrich made inroads as far as ballistics, blood…moreI haven't read The Poisoner's Handbook, but it seems like they were pioneers in different areas. Heinrich made inroads as far as ballistics, blood spatter patterns, geological identification, etc., whereas Norris and Gettier seem to be focused more on toxicology. (less)
Jeremy It has its moments. But I can't really recommend it.

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Average rating 3.71  · 
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Diane S ☔
Mar 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
2.5 i had a very difficult time deciding how I felt about this book. It was a very uneven, mixed read, or so I felt.

What I liked:

Oscar Heinrich, his professional accomplishments are admirable. The first to use scientific investigations for solving a crime. The first to use blood spatter analysis and to use UV light to determine blood. He testified in many criminal cases. In some he was successful but not all, which irked him beyond belief.

Each case started with a quote from one of Sherlock
Lori Lamothe
This is an engrossing read that chronicles the life of Edward Oscar Heinrich, a brilliant man who pioneered many techniques that shaped American forensics. Nicknamed the American Sherlock during his time, Heinrich has fallen into obscurityI was shocked to find he doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry. Not only did Heinrich solve more than 2,000 cases, including some of the most famous crimes of his era, but he also discovered many scientific techniques that are still in use today. Kudos to Kate ...more
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Edward Oscar Heinrich, nicknamed American Sherlock, was a pioneer of many crime scene investigation techniques, some are still used today in modernized forms. Heinrich was involved in investigating around 2,000 total cases around the country, but primarily on the west coast.

The book covers selected cases that Heinrich was hired (at this point in time forensic investigators were private contractors) to investigate, often for the prosecution, but at times for the defense. Some of these cases are
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding individual and the life story and career determination is interesting.

But the way this was told after about page 90 became a total slog drag. It's not sequential or a logical organization for continuity. It goes off on tangents and name drops, and then leaves cliff hangers it might answer 100 plus pages later. Very sloppy overall.

What a intriguing person Oscar was. It's too bad the story was not less by case minutia skips & transfers to others' parsings and more about his
♥ Sandi ❣
4.5 stars

This book covers the life of Edward Oscar Heinrich - known as the American Sherlock Holmes. Almost single handedly this man pioneered and perfected our forensic history - with many methods still being used today.

During Heinrichs most productive years of research and development in the 1930's to 1940's he had many competitors, most falling way behind his abilities. However he had to face these people and contradict them in many court hearings. It took Heinrich many years of testimony
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There's a good book in the story of Oscar Heinrich, aka "America's Sherlock Holmes." This, however, is not it. The author constantly teases the reader with click-bait lines like "But soon their loyalty would be tested..." without adequate follow-up: It's nearly two hundred pages later that the incident she alludes to occurs, and then there is no discussion of how that test ends: are they still loyal to each other? Are they still on speaking terms, at least? We assume so, but...we don't really ...more
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting subject but annoying writing style - too many "as he would soon find out" teasers which turn out to be rather ho-hum incidents.
A couple decades or so after the turn-of-the-century in Berkley, California, Edward Oscar Heinrich was becoming a household name, evolving as the first American expert in forensic science, working on high profile murder investigations, unsolvable crimes, inventing while perfecting his craft. Over his career, Heinrich set the standard for modern forensic investigation, and proudly known as the American Sherlock Holmes. For fans of C.S.I and Forensic Files.
Katie/Doing Dewey
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: febff, true-cirme
Summary: An engaging story looking at some of the earliest use of scientific crime scene analysis in the United States.

When author Kate Winkler Dawson read an article that mentioned a man known as the "American Sherlock Holmes", she immediately knew she'd found the subject for her next book. And when I saw that she had another book coming out, I immediately knew I was going to read it. "American Sherlock" Edward Heinrich was a forensic analyst and early pioneer of many of the techniques used to
Octavia (ReadsWithDogs)
"𝐋𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 𝐬𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐟𝐫𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬" -- 𝐄𝐝𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐎𝐬𝐜𝐚𝐫 𝐇𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐫𝐢𝐜𝐡

Whelp, American Sherlock was interesting, but ultimately let me down. I wanted a detailed account of how our CSI system came to be, but this book was more of a history of one of America's first forensic scientists; Edward Oscar Heinrich, and some of the cases he covered.

I first had the inkling of irk in the prologue where the author is surprised by Oscar Heinrich's attractiveness...why does this matter? She seems to become quite smitten
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book, but unfortunately it was a miss for me. The case stories were laden with interruptions for unnecessary discussions about Heinrich's endless financial worries (no closure on this point either, despite the near-constant mention of it) and unrelated tangents. Jumps in time and subject matter made the flow of the story very choppy. In the end, the writing left Oscar Heinrich feeeling very flat and one-dimensional, despite the fact that he was a very real, fascinating ...more
Linda Aull
Feb 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Book 2 of my 12 quality non-fiction books in 2020 challenge.

Fantastic Strangelings.

Very interesting book. There were a lot of but he didnt know what would happen next kind of section endings. Im not sure all of them got wrapped up. Lots of cliffs, some couldnt hang on.
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"American Sherlock," by Kate Winkler Dawson, is the true story of a genius, Edward Oscar Heinrich (known to his friends as Oscar), one of the most versatile and influential forensic scientists in the United States from the early twentieth century until he died in 1953, at the age of seventy-two. Dawson gained access to Heinrich's massive archives at UC Berkeley, and she offers fascinating details about her subject's challenging childhood and impressive professional accomplishments. Oscar ...more
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Keeping the junk science out of forensic science...a history

This book succeeds in describing the development of the reliable use of science in the courtroom by following the fascinating career of a pioneer in forensic science. The worlds of law and science intersect in a unique way in court. This book describes what can happen when all of the participants do not complete the work in a scientifically sound manner or communicate effectively. It conveys the excitement of a scientist creatively and
Betsy Decillis
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like doing book clubs because they push me into books I wouldn't choose on my own, like this one.

I was both excited about this and worried. Excited because I love reading about forgotten figures in history. Worried because in the last few years I have become strongly against murder porn. I just don't like drooling over the pain of others.

This book was extremely respectful of the victims in these cases and so I never felt like I was gawking at the worst moments in their lives. Instead, it
Edward Oscar Heinrich was a self-made man who never forgot his father's despair and his family's financial struggles...but he literally invents a whole field of criminal investigation -- and contributes to the field we all love to watch on TV...crime-scene investigations. He became an early 'expert witness' in high-profile criminal cases. He won some. He lost some. Some of the victims haunted him. And he learned...sometimes being the smartest guy in the room works against the defendant if the ...more
In my mind, the CSI techniques of a hundred years ago would have been rudimentary at best but this narrative nonfiction book seeks to show that the 1930s in America was actually where CSI was born. I would argue that it made great strides under Edward Oscar Heinrich (mostly because I've read other books on how CSI started in the 1800s-- but the subtitle does say of American CSI.)
The writing is generally very readable but, wow, did the author gloss over some things about EOH that the modern
Feb 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I tried. I've heard good things about this book, so I really tried to read it. I even skipped around, hoping maybe a later chapter would be more interesting. But it was too sensational for my taste. I expected a factual account; what I got was a tabloid-type story that jumped around in time and lingered on details the author could not possibly have known, like how the woman in the first chapter braided her hair. Also I didn't care much for the divided focus, all the details on all the characters ...more
Kim Gray
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
There was a disconnect in the author's portrayal of Oscar. I couldn't like or dislike him. He seemed petty. Too much time was spent discussing his financial fears. I was hoping to learn more about the cases and how he solves them, which the title and comparison to Sherlock would make you assume. I was anxious for this book to be done.
Kami Bumgardner
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll admit that anything even tangentially related to Sherlock Holmes is going to be something I can't wait to read.... and this book did not disappoint! But the best part of this book to me is that while often when we read detective stories- whether they are fiction or not- we mostly just get the highlight reel, where we would be led to believe that they can do no wrong, and this book felt very authentic in that we saw a vulnerable person who made mistakes, but learned from them, and did so ...more
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been waiting for this book for months and it didnt let me down at all. The slow pacing is my only reason for 4/5 stars. I feel like it bogged down in certain areas. ...more
Mar 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A 2.5 star read.

Definitely quite informative but the structure didn't seem to flow very well and even within the chapters themselves it felt a little haphazard.
Jessi G.
Feb 28, 2020 rated it liked it
I loved the forensic science discussed in this book and the background behind how modern forensic science was born. But I found the overall path of the book somewhat confusing and jumbled at points.

I might have felt differently had a read a physical copy versus listening to the audio. As much as I usually enjoy listening to an author read their own work, I found that listening to Kate Winkler Dawson was a bit too much like listening to a rather boring college professor. The information was
Erin Upshaw
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, dropped
I dropped this book about halfway through, because while the subject matter was interesting, I found the writing to be quite dry, and I tend to prefer my non-fiction to be written chronologically. The jumping around, the starting one case and then moving to the next, was something I found frustrating rather than compelling. However, I encourage you to give the book a shot and see for yourself; if you're a fan of true crime and non-linear storytelling, I think you'd really enjoy it. Just wasn't ...more
Mar 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting history of the beginnings of forensic science. It gives me pause regarding the use of forensic investigations and the "junk science" that has arisen, but still used widely. As someone who reads a lot of mystery books, it gives a different perspective on the claims made by analysts, and greater respect for the lab technicians who analyze the evidence.
Feb 28, 2020 rated it liked it
The start of forensic science in the USA.
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.25 stars. Material was really engaging. The individual stories were good. The book jumped around a bit in regards to subject and did not transition very well within chapters. One would start about a case, and have a long aside in the middle about future facts, anecdotes about his sons or mother, or long notes about his mental health not relating to the case at all. But, the writing about the cases was excellent and engaging.
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thank you, Edelweiss+ and P. G Putnam's Sons for a complimentary copy of this book! Here is my honest opinion about the book:

I was pleasantly surprised! I recently finished another book in the same genre and with the same topic. Out of the two, I preferred this one! I love the cases and the description of those involved, the way the cases were solved, the description of the motives of the perpetrators, the fact that the author didn't lose focus of the victim, and how Heinrich was involved in the
Beth Lynch
Feb 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Everyone in my book club loves this book. I...just wanted it to be over. I didn't love the organization or the topic. It was interesting as hell, but just not for me. Lesson learned: true crime stuff isn't for me.
Nov 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a fantastic history! I was so pleased to have found this through a Shelf Awareness email and receive an ecopy through NetGalley. As I enjoy crime shows such as Law and Order and NCIS, I was immediately drawn to the story of the man who pioneered modern forensic science.

Edward Oscar Heinrich, "America's Sherlock" (though he hated the nickname), lived a life fuller than most. Forced to provide for his family as a teenager after his father's suicide, he struck out into the world as a
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Kate Winkler Dawson joined the University of Texas at Austin's School of Journalism as a senior lecturer in 2009. Before then, she was on the faculty of Fordham University's Marymount College for two years. A seasoned documentary producer, news writer and TV news producer, her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, United Press International in London, WCBS News, ABC News ...more

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