Skip to main content

Four Must-Read Books on Autopsies for Fans of Forensics


1. Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist (by Dr. William Maples)

Published in 1995, Dead Men Do Tell Tales was one of the first forensic “tell-alls” of its kind. In a surprising blend of wit and horror, renowned forensic physician Dr. William Maples walks readers through some of the most baffling (and at times outlandish) cases he’s encountered in his prolific career.

From identifying the remains of a Civil War soldier to analyzing the bones of the Romanov family, Dr. Maples has found himself at the center of some of the strangest forensic riddles to date. Rest assured, he has a tale to tell for each one of them.


2. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (by Mary Roach)

Most people, unless they study medicine, probably don’t spend much time engaging with dead bodies if they can help it. Or so they might think.

According to science writer Mary Roach, dead bodies are actually all around us, and have had massive influences on the development of technology we take for granted every day. In Stiff, Roach dives into the many ways in which human remains have been used throughout history, some for good and some not so much. From the study of human decomposition in extreme climates to crash test dummies to guillotine guinea pigs, the history of cadavers is as engaging as it is macabre. Still, Roach veers away from the overly sensational, and is always sure to include well-researched ethical commentary wherever she deems necessary.

For anyone interested in medical history, this account of the afterlives of cadavers is a canonical text.


3. Death’s Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab, the Body Farm, Where the Dead Do Tell Tales (by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson)

In case Hollywood had anyone momentarily tricked into thinking that forensic science was glamorous, Death’s Acre is sure to set them straight again. For the first time since it was founded in 1987, readers are invited to examine for themselves the controversial research practices of the University of Tennessee’s decomposition study center — known in the forensic community as the original “body farm,” where Dr. Bill Bass would leave human remains in various natural conditions in order to study the process of their decay.

While the practice of “body farming” has (rightfully) raised many eyebrows in the scientific community over the years, there are few who would dispute that Dr. Bass’ findings have proved absolutely crucial to our crime scene investigation practices today.

For readers who want to learn even more about decomposition studies, Bass and Jefferson also published a follow-up book, Beyond the Body Farm, which takes the same principles and focuses them on a handful of high-profile cases.


4. All That Remains: A Life in Death (by Dr. Sue Black)

Understandably, death is a topic from which many would prefer to shy away. For forensic anthropology professor Dr. Sue Black, however, discussions about death have been the very backbone of her career.

In this almost poetic memoir, Black provides keen insight into the science behind her profession, while also attending to the more human aspects of forensics that too often get overlooked. Skillfully, she balances an acknowledgement of the importance of research with arguments for ethical and emotional factors to be taken into higher consideration. She weaves her own anecdotes with those of the deceased who have been her case studies, as well as their loved ones.

Readers of All That Remains might not have a background in forensic anthropology. Still, an understanding of the human experience will make this memoir one of the most relatable pieces of writing of its kind.

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Buy it now

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime: