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The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics Kindle Edition

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Length: 199 pages Word Wise: Enabled
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Product Description


essentially a pocket guide to the science in Holmes's adventures - short enough to read quickly but packed full of facts and quotations from Conan Doyle's 60 stories about the maverick detective. (Christine Sutton, CERN Courier)

Engaging and enlightening, this book will probably be most appreciated by those who are new to the Sherlock Holmes stories or to the history of forensics, by fans of Cumberbatch's Sherlock who are seeking a deeper understanding of the stories, and also by "Sherlockians" who devoutly read everything ever published about their fictional hero. (GrrlScientist, the Guardian, 22/01/2014)

One need not be a scientist or a previous Holmes fan to enjoy this book. (R. E. Buntrock, CHOICE)

this book is highly recommended as a valuable addition to the library of Holmesians and Sherlockians everywhere. (Stephen Wade, Times Higher Education)

About the Author

James O'Brien is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Missouri State University.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 9853 KB
  • Print Length: 199 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (12 Mar. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #720,665 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
This is a lightly informative and fun read for Holmes fans which explores the way in which the great detective uses science to solve his cases.

It starts by considering Conan Doyle's debt to Poe's detective stories and the way in which he moves from a detective detecting through instinct and intuition to something far more rational and scientific.

O'Brien knows his Holmes and this must have been a hugely enjoyable project on which to work. Running through code-breaking, chemistry, forensic analysis of footprints and fingerprints as well as a host of other scientific methods, not to mention the `enigmatic clue', this is the kind of book which sends us eagerly back to the Holmes stories.

This would be a perfect gift for anyone who loves the stories as much as I do.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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Format: Hardcover
I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes in every form from the original stories to the modern day TV version Sherlock, so it was with some enthusiasm that I came to The Scientific Sherlock Holmes. What I hoped for was something along the lines of one of the better ‘the science of’ type books – but in reality this is something quite different.

As the understated cover suggests, this feels like more of an academic book that a popular title. This comes through in a number of ways. James O’Brien is too interested in cataloguing every instance of something, rather than giving an interesting narrative. He also uses an infuriating approach, apparently common in academic writing about the Holmes stories, of using a four letter code to represent each story. So after a first reference to, say, The Hound of the Baskervilles, it is thereafter designated as HOUN. Similarly, A Study in Scarlet is STUD and so on. Unless you are a devotee, this makes the text rather impenetrable. Another academic tendency that does the author no favours is to keep referring to the way someone has theorised something about the particular topic, then giving a reference – not a great way of putting an argument across.

There is some interesting material in here as to how Doyle got his ideas, and examining in detail the different aspects of Holmes’ use of scientific and forensic methods – sometimes quite groundbreaking – and the degree of his scientific knowledge. In this, O’Brien is generally quite defensive of Holmes, giving him the benefit of the doubt when others like Isaac Asimov have suggested he was actually not up to scratch. But overall the package does not give the reader enough to get their teeth into and is presented in such a dry fashion that it is hard to consider it any more than a passing interest.
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Format: Hardcover
In "The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics" James O'Brien demonstrates how Arthur Conan Doyle's own scientific knowledge enabled him to create a detective who was both credible and memorable. He points out that most of the science is in the earlier stories, concluding that the far greater popularity of those tales is `surely no coincidence', and he shows us that Holmes was more advanced in the field of chemistry than some have suggested, even if his knowledge was not, perhaps, as profound as Watson thought. For all its good qualities, though - which do not include constant use of abbreviations for story titles - Professor O'Brien's book is both shallower and less accessible than "The Science of Sherlock Holmes" by E J Wagner.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9ef44678) out of 5 stars 17 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ec1ea20) out of 5 stars A lot of good material, but fails to merge the two topics 2 Dec. 2012
By Aaron C. Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
There are two natural audiences for a book of this title: Sherlock Holmes fans who want a deeper understanding of the stories, and people who want to learn science with something more amusing than a textbook.

Sherlock Holmes an excellent candidate for such a book because his deductions are based on logical and scientific principles, in fact this is what distinguishes the stories from nearly all earlier crime fiction. Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes' creator, had an excellent professional scientific education and Holmes himself is described as a serious chemist (although the alleged skill level varies in different stories).

The book does deliver some interesting Holmesian analysis and also some worthwhile scientific history (there is only a little actual science). There are three problems, however. The biggest one is there is only a weak attempt to link the two aspects of the book. For example, Alphonse Bertillon was mentioned in Hound of the Baskervilles, and he was a pioneer in 19th century forensic science. So we get a couple of pages on his life and career. But Holmes never used any of Bertillon's science and, as far as I know, Bertillon's science was not influenced by reading Sherlock Holmes stories. The discussion of Bertillon leads us to accounts of the Dreyfus case and the Mona Lisa theft, unrelated to either Holmes or science.

Another example is a mention that Holmes spent time studying the chemistry of coal tar derivatives is the excuse for an extended account of industrial chemistry. This leads to a history of dyes (the synthesis of the valuable indigo dye from coal tar was one of the early commercial triumphs of industrial chemistry), which leads us to Julius Caesar, the geography and economics of indigo cultivation and the organic chemistry of bromine substitution. All interesting stuff, but with the most tenuous connection to Sherlock Holmes.

This is not a fatal problem, the author could have written a short book on Sherlock Holmes, and appended a few dozen essays on science and history inspired by brief mentions in various stories. The result might not have been particularly coherent, but if each part stood on its own, I would have enjoyed the book. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. The analysis of Holmes is merely a summary of some classic works (with full citation, no plagiarism here) such as The Sherlock Holmes Companion, The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes For Dummies. The summaries are awkward, interested readers would be far better advised to consult the originals. The scientific and historical discussions are too brief and scattered to generate much interest or insight.

The final problem is the writing. The author's style is somewhat dull, too many simple declarative sentences with not enough organization by paragraph. At the worst points, is reminds me of a plodding lecturer drumming unconnected facts into the heads of unfortunate students.

The style problems are aggravated by the repetitiousness in the book. It is of the "tell-em what you're going to tell-em, tell-em, then tell-em what you told-em" school. This is useful for impressing simple facts on inattentive listeners, but it does not make pleasant reading. Moreover the triads themselves are often repeated.

There are many distracting in-line citations on every page, like a scientific article rather than a light popular account. The frequency of citation might give the impression that the author relied on other sources for specific facts when he is actually summarizing entire arguments. In a possibly revealing typo (I am working from uncorrected proofs) a sentence in text is repeated verbatim in a footnote. The book reads like a heavily footnoted essay in which the footnotes have been inserted directly into the text. Many paragraphs go off on a tangent for a sentence or two, like a footnote, and then return without notice to the main thought (or in too many cases, to an entirely different thought that begins a new thread).

For all the criticisms, there is a good deal of interesting material in this book. I think you can get it better elsewhere: better written, more complete and in superior logical arrangement. For fun science, consider: the Physics of Star Trek, Baseball and the Impossible, and that's only physics. The Science of Sherlock Holmes in an excellent popular account of forensic science, inspired and organized according to Sherlock Holmes stories (as in this book, the connection of the science and history to Holmes is superficial only). I mentioned three superior analyses of the Holmesian universe above and three others (not cited in this work) are The Sherlock Holmes Handbook, Close To Holmes and The Mysterious World of Sherlock Holmes. However, if you don't get the science, history and Holmesology elsewhere, it is worth getting here.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ec2f600) out of 5 stars For True Sherlock Holmes Fans 11 Jan. 2013
By George Poirier - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In this small book (155 pages of main text), the author covers a lot of territory. Through five chapters, he discusses the origins of Sherlock Holmes, the main characters in the stories, forensic science and Holmes's use of it, Holmes and chemistry and, finally, Holmes and his use of other sciences. The text is extensively referenced in the sense that (i) individual stories are frequently referred to when pertinent to a particular discussion and (ii) works of other Holmesian scholars are frequently mentioned, as necessary. Although I am an avid Sherlock Holmes fan, I must admit that I was not aware that there were so many serious studies of the stories, of the characters, and of what Doyle had in mind when he wrote his stories.

The author is clearly a serious student of Sherlock Holmes stories. He writes his book with a passion that really stands out. I found his prose to be clear, friendly, detailed, lively and quite captivating. This book should be of particular interest to Sherlock Holmes fans, especially those with a passion for forensic science and its history.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ec2fed0) out of 5 stars A great book. 12 Dec. 2012
By Tom Strong - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I have never read a Sherlock Holmes story, but was interested to learn why a person who never lived could draw so much attention after more than a century. "The Scientific Sherlock Holmes" gave me the answer. It is a wonderful, fantastic book! I discovered why Holmes has held the interest of the public for the past ten decades, but the book taught me more than just about Holmes. The author discusses real life cases and weaves them into the story in a most innovative and captivating way. We are told of the history of fingerprints, footprints, chemistry, hand writing, typewriting, and so much more. We learn how actual cases, such as O.J. Simpson and the Charles Lindbergh kidnaping, are related to the Holmes stories. The author obviously did mountains of research to produce this epic. It captivated this non-Holmes fan. I give it a five star rating.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ec32618) out of 5 stars Little book of Sherlock trivia! 29 Dec. 2012
By BLehner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
With The Scientific Sherlock Holmes James O'Brien brought out a book for those who've been as spellbound by the fictional detective as I've ever been.
On first glance the book seems to focus on Sherlock's scientific tools of deduction, yet it also offers a substantial introduction to characters, influences, and stories themselves. On one hand I found this to be a good idea as it offers a more rounded picture, on the other hand the title is a bit misleading with its promise of a scientific emphasis. This probably makes the book more suitable for Sherlock Newbies while those who already know a fair share about Sherlock's world might skip the first part.
About two thirds of this small volume delve deeper into the world of forensic science and mostly chemistry, which Sherlock certainly knew most about. His methods are being illuminated by examples from the stories and brought in correlation with modern-day methods. Especially the discourse by Isaac Asimov, himself an avid Sherlockian, who is a notable critic of Sherlock's scientific knowledge, was quite captivating. Sadly though the two domains of fictional story and science feel cobbled together in a rather dry manner, without much care for a fluent reading experience.
All in all I am torn about this book as I found the topic itself highly fascinating, but the execution lacking. Either way, those genuinely interested in the subject should definitely give this book a try.
In short: The little book of Sherlock trivia!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ec32d44) out of 5 stars Enjoyable Reading 10 Jan. 2013
By Donald K. Back - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a physician with a science background, I enjoyed reading James O'Brien "The Scientific Sherlock Holmes." It is well written and I like the way the writer explains in detail the history and basis of the methods that Sherlock Holmes uses in his investigation s of crimes. With this book in mind, I am now rereading the complete works of Sherlock Holmes. Donald K. Back, M.D.
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