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Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend [Paperback]

Mark Collins Jenkins
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Jun 2011
Vampires pervade popular culture, but for thousands of years before Bram Stoker penned "Dracula", people lived in terror of vampirical creatures - and recent discoveries shed new light on this primal fear and the legend and lore that has grown up around it. Written in conjunction with leading experts in science, anthropology, forensics, and archaeology, "Vampire Forensics" goes beyond current-day pop culture to shed new light on the subject. It explores the myriad origins of vampire stories, providing gripping historic and folkloric context for the concept of beings who seemingly defied death and fed on the lifeblood of others. From ancient whispers in Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, legends of vampiric demons passed through the centuries and around the globe, fed by misconceptions about the afterlife, fear of disease, and the unshakable feeling that demons might dwell among us. In "Vampire Forensics", Jenkins will revisit some of the touchpoints of vampire legend to base his tale in the historical record: shards of Persian pottery depicting blood-sucking demons; the epidemic of vampire stakings in 18th century Germany that challenged notions of Europe's Age of Enlightenment; and, the castle of Transylvanian count 'Vlad the Impaler' whose bloodthirsty methods added a new dimension to the vampire story. A highlight is the amazing recent discovery by National Geographic archaeologist Matteo Borrini of a 16th century Venetian grave of a plague victim suspected of being a vampire, buried with a brick through its mouth to prevent it from terrorizing the living. Jenkins skillfully navigates centuries of myth and legend while adding new chapters to the vampire story to weave a seductive tale that blends superstition, science, and psychology.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society (1 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426207301
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426207303
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.1 x 22.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 422,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A lively and entertaining survey of the historical and scientific materials relating to the natural phenomena that earlier centuries relentlessly misinterpreted as evidence for the undead." -"The Washington Post"

"From the Hardcover edition."

About the Author

Mark Jenkins is chief historian of the National Geographic Society's archives and author of several books, including The Book of Marvels, Worlds to Explore, and High Adventure, an illustrated history of the Society.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This book was OK. But no more than that.

If you want a well-written, coherent account of the origins of the vampire myth - or even a discussion of the various walking-corpsey-type myths available - then look elsewhere. You won't find it here.

This book reads more like a blog-published-as-book - an accumulation of short pieces written on similar topics, and then published as a book. It's interesting to read, but if it had been more organised, it would have been a better book. Not only does it jump about in time, but also in geography and in myth-type. The author (or editor, or someone) would have been better to pick a method of classification and then stick with it.

The book also gives quite a lot of direct quotes from other sources, which is not in itself bad, but it then fails to follow up by discussing them properly, or comparing them to other similar quotes. Also, many of these quotes don't seem to serve any purpose related to the stated topic of the book (i.e., the origin of the vampire legend) but appear to have been included only to titillate. Which leads back to the impression of blog-as-book; the whole book seems disjointed, as if the author just wrote it as a kind of macabre stream-of-consciousness, rather than as a credible work of non-fiction.

Content-wise, it's interesting, but because Jenkins has tried to cover an awful lot of ground - geographically, temporally and mythically - in relatively few pages, he doesn't go into anything in any depth. It's like a coffee-table book, except if you put this on your coffee-table probably nobody would visit you ever again. This is the kind of book where you put it down and say to yourself "Now, where can I find a real book on the origin of the vampire legend?"

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous! 15 Dec 2010
By Pilgrim
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Brilliant to read, very light and entertaining while delivering a lot of very interesting information. Highly recommendable to anyone with an interest in Vampires and their legends, myths, and history!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Vampire Forensics 23 Oct 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a well written and well researched book that would suit students of Gothic fiction as well as general readers. Jenkins basically attempts to try and ascertain where and how the vampire myth originated. He found that vampires were not the sexy but tormented creatures we are accustomed to reading about today. On the contrary, back in medieval times vampires were associated death, decay and sightings of vampires were usually more frequent when populations had experienced epidemics. Jenkins bases his conclusions on the back of archaeology and anthropology. He also uses literary texts to demonstrate how popular perceptions of the vampire figure have changed over time. I found this book to be a very informative but also entertaining read.
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Mostly rehashes of previous materials and does not uncover the roots and history of where some of hte stories come from. Disappointing.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Book You'll Want to Sink Your Teeth Into 11 Mar 2010
By cfeagans - Published on
Vampire Forensics presents the lore and myth of vampires with an eye for science, particularly anthropology, psychology, physiology and, more to my liking, archaeology.

I have always enjoyed stories and movies about vampires. At age four, I was hooked on Dark Shadows, a bad soap opera that featured gothic ghouls like vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. But it was Barnabas Collins who made blood sucking cool. I think I was a vampire for Halloween more than once and always considered the vampire to be the king of Hollywood monsters. The Mummy, the Wolfman, all the ghosts, witches, and zombies -they all bowed to the vampire. Even the word itself looks sinister: vampire.

Now, in my studies of anthropology and archaeology, I was simply beside myself to discover Vampire Forensics. Mark Collins Jenkins presents a side of vampirism that I hadn't previously considered and I suspect I'm not alone. Mixing pop culture, ancient mythology, and the evidence of physical remains and modern forensics, the author paints a picture that is both engaging and interesting; both entertaining and informing. Jenkins begins by highlighting vampires in pop culture, such as the novels of Anne Rice and Whitley Streiber as well as Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. He then moves quickly into pathological explanations for vampirism that might explain the origins of superstitions and myths that erupted as "vampire epidemics" that coincided with 18th century outbreaks of disease or petulance, such as rabies and the plague.

What follows is a style of writing that compels the reader to turn page after page as he moves fluidly from historical records of sociopathic criminals and their gruesome behaviors, forensic and physiological evidence, and and the myth and lore associated with vampires in early historical accounts.

Consider this paragraph (pp. 32-33):
"This litany of latter-day vampirism seems inexhaustible indeed. But it may have reached its grisly apogee in 1980, when 23-year-old James Riva, using gold-plated bullets, shot and killed his 74-year-old disabled grandmother. Riva then drank her blood as it spurted from the wounds. He had attacked her, Riva later claimed, because the voice of a vampire had instructed him to do so. Riva further declared that he himself was a 700-year-old vampire who required his grandmother's blood to survive, only to discover that she was too old and dried up to serve that purpose. In 2009, he came up for parole. It was denied."

Compare with this one (pp. 127-128):
"The tuberculosis bacillum, with justifiable exaggeration, might be said to consume the life force of its victim, overwhelming the victim's will to live. Yet the pathogen has also evolved to spread via contagion, feeding off a new host before its old one dies, and so on down the line. Take away the understanding of microscopic pathogens, however, and what is left? A mysterious life force consuming one person after another, and believed powerful enough to act from afar -- even from the grave."

And contrast with this one (p. 124):
"Back on the knoll near Griswold, when the archaeologists had opened the coffin labeled "JB-55," Bellantoni was momentarily taken aback. The skeleton looked like no other he had seen: These bones had been rearranged in a classic skull-and-crossbones pattern. This grave had been desecrated, apparently many decades earlier."

And you get an inkling of what you might expect from Vampire Forensics. One of the central stories in the book is that of ID6, a skeleton excavated from a from a 16th century mass grave that resulted from the plague outbreak in Venice, Italy that began in 1510. Half the population of the city was infected with the plague by 1576, most of them dying from it. Graves were opened and reopened in order to dispose of the bodies. 400 years after the fact, archaeologist Matteo Borrini excavated the remains, and happened upon the partial skeleton of an elderly woman who had a brick shoved, post-mortem, in her mouth. The mystery led Dr. Borrini to the legend of the "chewing dead," which was held by superstition to mean that a corpse would exhibit vamipire-like behavior of eating neighboring corpses.

That ID6 was thought to be a "chewing corpse" or Nachzehrer ("after-devourer"), was likely fueled by the superstitions held by people of the day, understandably frightened by the horror of the plague. Perhaps the blood on a death shroud near the mouth, flowing during the decay process and the bloating from gases, giving the appearance of having just gorged on a meal of fellow corpses was enough to cause some poor grave digger to take no chances and, thus, ram a brick in its mouth before reburying in hopes that the vampire might starve to death.

As an archaeologist and anthropologist who's primary interest is in the ancient beliefs and superstitions of people in prehistory and early history, I found Vampire Forensics to be informative and inspiring. For me, the approach was fresh and I learned a few things. As a fan of vampire lore in both mythology and pop culture, I found the author's work to be as entertaining as any modern thriller and it was difficult to put the book down and do other things... like sleep or work.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and informative 31 May 2011
By Where did SEPtember Go? - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'm not a big fan of vampire stories, but I had my eye on this book for quite some time before deciding to splurge. The premise fascinated me - using literary history, anthropology, and archaeology to discuss the history of the vampire in legend and literature. The book did not disappoint - I found it fascinating. It was very interesting to learn of the vampire's pedigree - going way, way back and spanning half the globe. I particularly liked the archaeological and anthropological evidence that was discussed - it really brings home how serious people were in earlier times abou their belief in vampires and related creatures.

My only disappointment with this book was that (on the Kindle) the actual book ended at about 70%, with the rest being notes and bibliography. There were interesting tidbits of information in the notes, and I enjoyed skimming through them, but it was a bit of a letdown to realize that the main part of the book wasn't as long as I thought it was going to be...

Recommended for anyone who wants an 'intellectual' background on the history of vampires in legend and literature. There are a few parts that are 'not pleasant', and the overall tone of the writing would be geared for mid-teens or up - this isn't a child's book.

Note on Kindle formatting: Very good. I didn't notice any issues.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixture of Good and Bad 12 April 2012
By Amanda Jade - Published on
Written by historian Mark Jenkins, Vampire Forensics is an insightful non-fiction novel that explores the vast history of vampires. In the book, legend and lore are examined through the lens of history, archaeology, anthropology, and forensic science.

I have been studying vampires personally and professionally for more years I care to count and have read virtually every non-fiction vampire text I could get my hands on - that being said, this book revealed very little that I hadn't know already. It was a bit disappointing in that respect, I expected a book promoted by The National Geographic to have a little something more. However, in spite of that this book is by no means a bad book. It truly is a superb collection of information on the history of vampires.

The author of Vampire Forensics most certainly did his research and did it well. SO very much is covered in this book and it is all done with perfect accuracy. Readers will learn about Bram Stoker's Dracula, about the darker history behind other famous vampire stories, about diseases that triggered vampiric beliefs, age-old superstitions, vampire lore around the world and so much more. I can't possibly describe every vampire topic covered in Vampire Forensics; let's just say that you will learn plenty.

As I said above, this book told me a lot of what I had previously known, however, it did delve much deeper into those topics than other books I have read before. So, while I did know a lot of this information beforehand, I learned even more about each particular subject thanks to this book.

Something else I adored in this book was Jenkins' writing style, it was fantastic. Instead of reading like a boring text book (like many non-fiction books do) his beautifully written words came off more like a haunting horror story. He covered the history in a way that wasn't dull, but rather in a way that was both chilling and stimulating.

Now, like all books, Vampire Forensics wasn't 100% perfect. There were many sections in the book that, while absolutely fascinating, had very little to do with vampires or the history behind them. For example, the chapter on grave robbing and the history behind it was morbidly interesting, but didn't play a real role in the history of vampires. Were potential vampire graves dug up? Yes, but not with the intention of robbing them. It was an enjoyable read, but one that could have been cut out. The off-topic chapters happen so frequently that it muddles the book and the point it's trying to make. It makes the book a little less clear and left me wondering what the point of it all was and why the author didn't focus strictly on vampires.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to any hardcore vampire (or history) fan. However, while it is packed full of vampire history, I don't feel that it accomplished what it set out to do. I was expecting a clear and chronological history on vampires, and well, I totally didn't get that (which is why the book, while informative, didn't get higher stars). If the history of vampires truly fascinates you I would pick up Vampire Forensics alongside other non-fiction vampire books.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not about vampires 1 Dec 2013
By KJ - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A better, more accurate title would be something along the lines of "A brief history of death rituals from around the world". There were some interesting tidbits in the book, but if you're looking for something about the history and evolution of the vampire legend, this isn't for you. If I had to give a percentage of how much of this book was actually focused on vampires, I'd say maybe 30%. Glad I didn't pay full price.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required For Vampire Nuts 7 April 2013
By konacoffee - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'm not close to being one of the legion of vampire/zombie fanatics, I don't get the fuss with the undead. But I wanted to read this to learn about the legend itself. Author makes great arguments for exactly what the superstitious folks of yesteryear thought were vampires. Human unembalmed can excrete nasty black fluid/blood from orifices, gases escape causing sounds, loss of skin and fat can make it look like nails grow after death etc. Very interesting look into the vampire fear culture of the past. Great for vampire buffs, historians, psychology students, forensics.
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