The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics

The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics

The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics

The Scientific Sherlock Holmes: Cracking the Case with Science and Forensics


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 Holmesis a must-read for the legion of fans of this most beloved of all fictional detectives.


Few characters in literature are more universally recognized than Sherlock Holmes. the subject of sixty stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and countless pastiches by other authors (not to mention even a “biography” or two), Holmes is nothing short of an icon of literature. While readers are captivated by his powers of observation and deductive reasoning, somewhat overlooked in the stories is the use of science and forensic methods, long before network television made them so popular. Conan Doyle (and Holmes) blazed a new trail in this regard, adding depth and complexity to the detective genre started by Edgar Allan Poe. This book focuses on the scientific aspects of Sherlock Holmes. Essentially every one of the sixty stories has some mention of science. in some of the stories, science is the dominant factor.

We begin by tracing the origins of Arthur Conan Doyle’s science-oriented detective. Then, after describing the main characters in the stories in chapter 2, chapter 3 takes a detailed look at how Holmes used science to solve his cases. Because Sherlock Holmes knows more chemistry than any other science, chapter 4 examines Holmes the chemist. the final chapter looks at his knowledge and use of other sciences. Throughout the book, we use the terms “Sherlockian” and “Holmesian” interchangeably to refer to someone with great interest and/or expertise in Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlockian tends to be used in the United States and Holmesian in the United Kingdom (King, L. R., in King and Klinger 2011).

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