Readers who manage to put the hyperbolic and misleading subtitle aside will find this an enjoyable if unremarkable addition to the ceaseless, CSI-inspired forensic subgenre of true crime. Mann, deputy director of the federal Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, studied with masters of the field, including the legendary Body Farm founder, Bill Bass. The 20 chapters do a nice job of presenting the essence of forensic anthropology, although there is little that will be new to anyone who has read a similarly themed book (and Bass recently penned his own memoir, a better place for a newcomer to start). Mann's skill and dedication are unquestioned—he pieced together the smashed bones of one of the victims of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer—and his role in helping to identify soldiers' remains is admirable, but many of his case studies are similar, and a number end inconclusively (belying the book's title). The author might have done better to present fewer war stories, but to look at each in greater depth. (Mar. 28)
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Mann, who got his Ph.D. in physical anthropology at age 51, came to forensics after a stint at a funeral home during college eventually led to study at the infamous Body Farm, "a school for the living taught by the dead," where he stands out among the crowd so much that the famed forensic anthropologist Bill Bass takes him on as an assistant. Mann's career has been filled with colorful and varied cases, ranging from figuring out whether a severed, mummified torso was that of a male or a female to identifying the remains of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's first victim, a young hitchhiker he picked up and beat to death. Not all cases get solved, at least not right away--a soldier's remains are discovered, analyzed, and identified 48 years after his disappearance, but a leg that is discovered in a natural pool in Oahu remains unidentified despite several clues. Armchair CSIs will enjoy this fascinating look at forensics in action. Kristine Huntley
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