Book Review – Written In Bone

Time for a non-fiction review! Admittedly these don’t happen very often on my blog these days, but Professor Dame Sue Black is someone I always want to hear from. I read her first book, All That Remains, when it first came out, and so as soon as I heard about Written In Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind, I preorded it. As it is, I ended up listening to most of it as an audio book, as Professor Black narrates it herself, and she has the most lovely voice to listen to.

Our bones are the silent witnesses to the lives we lead. Our stories are marbled into their marrow.

Drawing upon her years of research and a wealth of remarkable experience, the world-renowned forensic anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black takes us on a journey of revelation. From skull to feet, via the face, spine, chest, arms, hands, pelvis and legs, she shows that each part of us has a tale to tell. What we eat, where we go, everything we do leaves a trace, a message that waits patiently for months, years, sometimes centuries, until a forensic anthropologist is called upon to decipher it.

Some of this information is easily understood, some holds its secrets tight and needs scientific cajoling to be released. But by carefully piecing together the evidence, the facts of a life can be rebuilt. Limb by limb, case by case – some criminal, some historical, some unaccountably bizarre – Sue Black reconstructs with intimate sensitivity and compassion the hidden stories in what we leave behind.

Writing a review of a non-fiction book is very different to a fiction novel, and so my review will be different to match. I rated this book as five stars over on Good Reads (still sticking to my January goal of staying on top of registering my reads, mostly!), because both of how much I learned, and how much I took away from it emotionally.

Within these pages, Sue Black shares her experiences and stories, with thoughtfulness and reflection. Along with her years of wisdom, Professor Black brings a personal touch to what she is teaching us, allowing everyone to take something from what she shares. Making her way down the body – an incredibly unique and entertaining way to study forensic anthropology in a book – we gather information about everything from the parts of the collarbone to the tips of our toes (I’m relieved to find out that even forensic anthropologists can have a dislike of feet, I must add).

There are, by the very nature of the job and the book, some very poignant moments within it, and it is important to note these, not to wipe them away but to hold them close with what is shared with us. We learn about cases that have stayed with Professor Black for various reasons, and I know there are now cases I will be taking with me forever more.

I will add a trigger warning for domestic violence and child abuse here, and note that Professor Black shares not just her professional experience of the latter, but also her personal. This particular part of the book was highly emotional for me, because it was handled in such a way that was layered with hope for recovery. I did in fact tweet the Professor, because it was exactly what I needed to hear.

This book is as powerful as All That Remains, if not more so, and ready to take everyone who is prepared to go on a trip through the human body. As far as non fiction goes, it couldn’t be better.


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