Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science, by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Michael Wandelmaier (Kids Can Press, 2010, 88 pages, ages 8 on up).
This is an utterly fascinating book, in which science, history, curiosity and determination (and a bit of luck) come together to solve mysteries from the past. All the nine cases looked at here involve people, and places, that apparently vanished -- Hatshepsut, Hsu Fu (a great Chinese navigator), the City of Ubar, the Anasazi, Sir John Franklin, Anastasia, George Mallory (lost climbing Everest), a lost airplane, the Star Dust, and finally, an Israli sub, the INS Dakar.
Each section begins by describing the disappearance in crime reporting fashion. Then the historical background is given, describing in detail the case in question. And then, enter the scientists and historians! Using a variety of high tech techniques (DNA testing, satellite imagery, robotics) and sheer determination (exploration of inhospitable places), men and women determined to find out what really happen set to work. In almost all of the cases covered, enough evidence was found to provide pretty definite answers. But still, mysteries remain...
The writing is exciting, and the science and history top-notch. The geographic coverage is great, and although there is a male bias in the scientists, women are there too. The illustrations are a nice mix of data presentation, artist's reconstructions, and actual images. But what makes this book really cool is its presentation of how directly applicable science is to history. Forget the white lab coat stereotype--here we have scientists actually doing cool things out in the world, and finding answers to mysteries! Pretty neat stuff!
This book should appeal greatly to any kid with a bent toward science, mysteries, and archaeology (who doesn't mind a few dead people)--at least, my own son loved it to pieces (here's his review, at his own blog, Pickled Bananas). In fact, the reason I am posting this review so late in the day is that I didn't get the chance I'd counted on to read it and write about it last night, when the boys were off downtown with their father, at his regular Irish music gig. Case Closed? ended up going down to the pub too...where it was read for the third time in one week.
The Non-fiction Monday round-up is at Playing By the Book today!
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)