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A riveting blend of science writing and true-crime narrative that explores the valuable but often shocking interface between crime and nature - and the secrets each can reveal about the other - from a pioneer in forensic ecology and a trailblazing female scientist.
From mud tracks on a quiet country road to dirt specks on the soles of walking boots, forensic ecologist Patricia Wiltshire uses her decades of scientific expertise to find often-overlooked clues left behind by criminal activity. She detects evidence and eliminates hypotheses armed with little more than a microscope, eventually developing a compelling thesis of the who, what, how, and when of a crime. Wiltshire's remarkable accuracy has made her one of the most in-demand police consultants in the world, and her curiosity, humility, and passion for the truth have guided her every step of the way.
A riveting blend of science writing and true-crime narrative, The Nature of Life and Death details Wiltshire's unique journey from college professor to crime fighter: solving murders, locating corpses, and exonerating the falsely accused. Along the way, she introduces us to the unseen world all around us and underneath our feet: plants, animals, pollen, spores, fungi, and microbes that we move through every day. Her story is a testament to the power of persistence and reveals how our relationship with the vast natural world reaches far deeper than we might think.
"[The Nature of Life and Death] is reminiscent at times of Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and also the television show Bones.... Fascinating for readers who enjoy science, including ecology and botany, and who aren’t too squeamish." (Library Journal)
"How this mild-mannered but fiercely dedicated academician came to muck around in woodlands, bogs, and parks searching for clues that would otherwise escape the less botanically astute makes for a fiendishly good memoir. Though many scenes are not for the fainthearted, Wiltshire's truthful and candid attitude provides a stellar glimpse into this fascinating field of criminal investigation." (Booklist)
"The Nature of Life and Death draws the reader into the invisible world of a forensic ecologist who utilizes state-of-the-art science to solve grisly crimes that would have otherwise been unsolvable. Fans of true crime such as CSI and Forensic Files will be in for a treat as Pat gives you a personal glimpse into her world and philosophy of life." (Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, and Thomas Patterson, PhD, coauthors of The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug)
"Capturing and studying the almost-invisible clues that nature leaves on victim and suspect alike, Wiltshire uses her deep knowledge of botany and palynology to recreate crime scenes and establish the guilt - and sometimes innocence - of the accused. The Nature of Life and Death is a compelling mystery, an ode to the natural world, and an engrossing account of a female scientist whose passion, expertise, and deep curiousity created an entirely new branch of crime solving." (Cat Warren, author of the New York Times best seller What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World)
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- Kirby C.
Fascinating Welsh granny
I had a bit of a rough start w/ this audiobook because the author's voice isn't especially dynamic at the beginning, but the story is exceedingly interesting and pulled me in relatively quickly.
Patricia Wiltshire is a forensic palynologist and a pioneer in her field, and The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace is part science, part memoir, and part true crime. Wiltshire discusses her childhood and the factors that led her to become a palynologist. There are two chapters that are essentially entirely autobiographical, and the final chapter is filled w/ acknowledgements, but the majority of the book discusses what palynology is and how Wiltshire was able to assist with many crime investigations using her knowledge and skills.
I enjoyed listening to this audiobook very much and feel like I learned a lot about something I never would have thought about had I not read this book. The author is incredibly intelligent and highly accomplished. If I'm ever murdered, I want this lady on the case. Every body truly does leave a trace, and nature leaves its trace on all of us every day as we go about our lives. It's amazing how Wiltshire is able to find an exact place at the edge of a field or in a wood by the pollen and spores captured in samples from the soil.
I would recommend The Nature of Life and Death if you aren't squeamish because there are vivid descriptions of police investigations, crime scenes, murdered corpses, and the natural sequence of decay. Wiltshire talks about how victims died and in what condition their bodies were found. It's funny to think of someone w/ a Welsh granny voice - soft and soothing - investigating grisly crime scenes and testifying in court.
The author does repeatedly show her age by using outdated language and phrases like "news on the wireless." She also tends to go off on tangents that meander eventually back to the original case she was discussing. It was something I definitely noticed but not something that was overly bothersome to me. I didn't mind a stroll through additional detail here and there. Many of the crime scene descriptions are repetitive as much of her work described in the book takes place in the UK, which means that many of the gravesites are much the same, but it was fascinating that the smallest different pollen grain or fungal spore could differentiate one crime scene from any other.
Overall, however, her world view is pretty modern, and she is firmly an atheist. The topic is especially well-researched, and Wiltshire quite literally was instrumental in creating the standard operating procedures and best practices that make up the field of forensic palynology.
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- Linda Hammtu
Fasinating book on the natural world
I was in awe of the author’s knowledge on so many subjects. Even though she did not seem to be religious or believe in God I came away with a greater belief in the brilliant God and creator of our world and the many aspects of plants and fungus and how we as humans are affected by them and how they are part of our life.
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- Mary Beth
Why the anti-religious “rants”?
While I found the author’s description of forensic ecology very educational in well-told narrative, I found her interjections of anti-religious sentiment misplaced, unnecessary and off putting. She is a talented author and scientist. Her vast knowledge acquired over decades of study and experience stand on their merits. I didn’t appreciate being assaulted with views totally unsupportive of her story telling.