Review: Written in Bone by Sue Black


Title: Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind

Author: Sue Black

Published: 1st June 2021, Arcade

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Arcade/Edelweiss



My Thoughts:


Internationally renowned forensic anthropologist Dame Sue Black offers a rather poetic definition of her profession in the introduction to Written in Bone.


“The forensic anthropologist’s job is to try to read the bones of our skeleton as if they were a record, moving a professional stylus across them in search of the short, recognizable segments of body-based memory that form part of the song of a life, coaxing out fragments of the tune laid down there long ago.”


Less fancifully, a forensic anthropologist’s job is the examination of human skeletal remains for law enforcement agencies to help with the recovery of human remains, determine the identity of unidentified human remains, interpret trauma, and estimate time since death. It’s a professional discipline that requires scientific rigour and the ability to interpret the science for others.

Black proves she has mastered the skills of her trade in Written in Bone, sharing her detailed knowledge and understanding of her field, and presenting the science in a clear and accessible manner for someone with a basic understanding of anatomy. Crucially though, Black never lets us forget that the bones were once the essential framework of a human being.

Written in Bone is organised in sections that move down the skeleton from the head through to the foot. In each chapter Black explains the development and function of specific bones, how those bones may, or may not, be affected by natural or unnatural means, the process a forensic anthropologist uses to examine and then provide a scientific assessment of the bones, and case examples that demonstrate the role of forensic anthropology in the investigation of legal and criminal cases.

It is astonishing how much information even a fragment of bone may be capable of providing in the hands of a skilled forensic anthropologist. Not only sex, age, ethnicity and height, but also diet, history of disease, cause of death, and even a history of emotional trauma. Black describes the need, “…to squeeze every single piece of information out of whatever parts we do have in our pursuit of the answers to questions about identity, life and death.” and the fascinating, sometimes disturbing, case examples that show just how important those details can be in an investigation.

I felt like I learnt quite a bit from Black. I hadn’t known that the bones in the hand can be a reliable indicator of age in living people, or that disease and emotional trauma can leave a mark called a Harris line on long bones while they are growing. I’m left curious as to what my bones may tell a forensic anthropologist, and if they hold enough of a record to help identify me if they are all that remains.

Written in Bone will interest a range of curious readers from students of related fields to true crime buffs and fans of TV’s ‘Bones’. Educational, intriguing, and surprising, I found this to be an absorbing read.


Available from Simon & Schuster

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko 

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. victoria7401
    Jun 08, 2021 @ 14:11:10

    Thanks for the review, I’m now very interested in reading this book.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Anne - Books of My Heart
    Jun 09, 2021 @ 03:07:16

    I think this sounds fascinating. I wondered if it would be accessible for people without much background so thanks for covering that information. Great review!



  3. Stephanie - Bookfever
    Jun 09, 2021 @ 07:03:36

    This sounds super fascinating and I would 100% read it!



  4. Mystica
    Jun 09, 2021 @ 14:39:40

    What a lot of information. Thanks for the review

    Liked by 1 person


  5. Gofita
    Jun 10, 2021 @ 05:45:04

    I just started this one! Great review and am loving it so far. She’s a great writer and scientist.

    Liked by 1 person


  6. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  7. Tracey (Carpe Librum)
    Jun 28, 2021 @ 23:30:38

    This was a DNF for me (after 9%) but I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It’s a fascinating topic.

    Liked by 1 person


  8. Anjana
    Jul 31, 2021 @ 16:49:30

    I loved this book too! Great review 🙂



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