The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics
October 7th, 2015 by Aldouspi

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One of the most popular and widely known characters in all of fiction, Sherlock Holmes has an enduring appeal based largely on his uncanny ability to make the most remarkable deductions from the most mundane facts. The very first words that Sherlock Holmes ever says to Dr. Watson are, "How are you? You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." Watson responds, "How on earth did you know that?" And so a crime-solving legend is born.

In The Scientific Sherlock Holmes, James O'Brien provides an in-depth look at Holmes's use of science in his investigations. Indeed, one reason for Holmes's appeal is his frequent use of the scientific method and the vast scientific knowledge which he drew upon to solve mysteries. For instance, in heart of the book, the author reveals that Holmes was a pioneer of forensic science, making use of fingerprinting well before Scotland Yard itself had adopted the method. One of the more appealing aspects of the book is how the author includes real-world background on topics such as handwriting analysis, describing how it was used to capture the New York Zodiac killer and to clinch the case against the Lindbergh baby kidnapper.

Sherlock Holmes was knowledgeable about several sciences, most notably chemistry. Therefore the book takes a close look at Holmes the chemist and discusses, for example, chemical poisons such as carbon monoxide, chloroform, and Prussic acid (the historical name for hydrogen cyanide). The author also debunks Isaac Asimov's famous assertion that Holmes was a blundering chemist. In addition, the book discusses mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy, meteorology, and geology, always in the context of Holmes's exploits.

Sherlock Holmes continues to fascinate millions of readers and movie goers alike. The Scientific Sherlock Holmes is a must-read for the legion of fans of this most beloved of all fictional detectives.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199794960
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199794966
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.7 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces

Customer Reviews

For True Sherlock Holmes Fans

9 people found this helpful.
 on January 11, 2013
By George Poirier
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.

A great book.

7 people found this helpful.
 on December 12, 2012
By Tom Strong
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.

Sherlock Holmes from a scientific viewpoint

 on February 24, 2014
By Flyfisher
What this book lacks in smoothly flowing syntax is more than compensated for by solid scientific research. James O'Brien, a retired chemist and distinguished scholar, has drawn from his vast knowledge of science and applied it in his treatment of Sherlock Holmes. True Holmes followers will appreciate and applaud Dr. O'Briens treatise and will find it to be very informative

The Ultimate Sherlock Sleuth Reference

 on August 24, 2013
By Marianne ZC
The information in this book is smartly organized and thoroughly sits by my reading chair at all times. It has all the answers to "What would Sherlock do" and "How would he do it." I see so much more in Doyle's stories after having studied this book. I can't watch a Sherlock episode or read a Sherlock story any longer without refering to this book...what a great addition to the pleasure of knowing Sherlock Holmes! Thank you James O'Brien.

Enjoyable Reading

2 people found this helpful.
 on January 10, 2013
By Donald K. Back
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.


 on October 28, 2013
By Eric Tague
This book was written by a former chemistry faculty member at Missouri State University, and contains a great analysis of the science used by Doyle and Holmes. It is an easy and enlightening read for anyone who admires the holmes books for the science used.

Sherlock and his methods explained

 on July 22, 2013
By T. F. Hanratty
For any scientific-minded reader. A must for Sherlockians, but important and entertaining for anyone else. From philosophy to brain chemistry and forensic science, this book explains the methods that made Holmes the great sleuth he was.

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