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18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics

Bruce Goldfarb

5 Reviews

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Popular science

The unlikely tale of Frances Glessner Lee and her revolutionary work in forensic science through the creation of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, a series of dollhouse-sized crime scene dioramas that she used to teach homicide investigators.

For most of human history, sudden and unexpected deaths of a suspicious nature, when they were investigated at all, were examined by lay persons without any formal training. People often got away with murder. Modern forensic investigation originates with Frances Glessner Lee - a pivotal figure in police science.

Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962), born a socialite to a wealthy and influential Chicago family, was never meant to have a career, let alone one steeped in death and depravity. Yet she became the mother of modern forensics and was instrumental in elevating homicide investigation to a scientific discipline.

Frances Glessner Lee learned forensic science under the tutelage of pioneering medical examiner Magrath - he told her about his cases, gave her access to the autopsy room to observe post-mortems and taught her about poisons and patterns of injury. A voracious reader too, Lee acquired and read books on criminology and forensic science - eventually establishing the largest library of legal medicine.

Lee went on to create The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death - a series of dollhouse-sized crime scene dioramas depicting the facts of actual cases in exquisitely detailed miniature - and perhaps the thing she is most famous for. Celebrated by artists, miniaturists and scientists, the Nutshell Studies are a singularly unusual collection. They were first used as a teaching tool in homicide seminars at Harvard Medical School in the 1930s, and then in 1945 the homicide seminar for police detectives that is the longest-running and still the highest-regarded training of its kind in America. Both of which were established by the pioneering Lee.

In 18 TINY DEATHS, Bruce Goldfarb weaves Lee's remarkable story with the advances in forensics made in her lifetime to tell the tale of the birth of modern forensics.

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Praise for 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics

  • A culmination of years of historical research using primary sources, including the papers of Frances Glessner Lee herself. It is the story of how one stubborn, intelligent, creative and self-taught woman could immerse herself in a passion that had immense repercussions in the fields of both medicine and the law... As this absorbing and evocative book will show you, Frances Glessner Lee should be recognized as the matriarch of the modern practice of forensic pathology. - Judy Melinek, M.D., co-author of Working Stiff

  • Frances Glessner Lee's dioramas of death have long been objects of fascination; now Bruce Goldfarb, the man who knows them best, has written a definitive account of how they came to be, and of the compelling, complex woman who created them. This book will beguile anyone with an interest in forensic science or the history of crime investigation. - Rachel Monroe, author of Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime and Obsession

  • Eye-opening biography of Frances Glessner Lee, who brought American medical forensics into the scientific age...genuinely compelling. - Kirkus Reviews

  • Thorough research helps him paint a captivating portrait of a feminist hero and forensic pioneer. - Booklist

  • Goldfarb's clearly written and well-researched book is recommended for history and legal studies audiences. - Library Journal

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