REVIEW: Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind by Sue Black
From the author of All That Remains, a tour through the human skeleton and the secrets our bones reveal.
In her memoir All That Remains, internationally renowned forensic anthropologist and human anatomist Dame Sue Black recounted her life lived eye to eye with the Grim Reaper. During the course of it, she offered a primer on the basics of identifying human remains, plenty of insights into the fascinating processes of death, and a sober, compassionate understanding of its inescapable presence in our existence, all leavened with her wicked sense of humor.
In her new book, Sue Black builds on the first, taking us on a guided tour of the human skeleton and explaining how each person’s life history is revealed in their bones, which she calls “the last sentinels of our mortal life to bear witness to the way we lived it.” Her narrative follows the skeleton from the top of the skull to the small bones in the foot. Each step of the journey includes an explanation of the biology—how the bone is formed in a person’s development, how it changes as we age, the secrets it may hold—and is illustrated with anecdotes from the author’s career helping solve crimes and identifying human remains, whether recent or historical. Written in Bone is full of entertaining stories that read like scenes from a true-life CSI drama, infused with humor and no-nonsense practicality about the realities of corpses and death.
TW/CW – child abuse, child sexual abuse, rape, torture, graphic descriptions of human bodies
I’m not going to add much to what the blurb (accurately) details will be in this book. Black starts at the top of the human skeleton and works her way down, describing how bones form, change as we age, and then includes (edited) details from some of her past investigations on behalf of the police and others trying to solve crimes. It’s a fascinating, down to earth depiction of the human skeleton and how our lives can be shown from our bones. The cases she includes are also interesting and real life examples of how this detailed knowledge can help ensure justice – both for getting who dunnit as well as clearing who didn’t.
I would strongly urge readers to be aware that many of these cases will be disturbing to read about. There were times I needed to take a break and go look at something soothing and peaceful. My admiration for those who spend their professional lives viewing what humanity can do to other humanity then trying to right these wrongs has gone up even more after reading this book. B