Shakespeare’s Fingerprints by Michael Brame & Galina Popova, 1/5
This is one of the most ludicrous books I have ever read and I could not stop talking about it to my poor husband, who also had to listen to a soundtrack of shocked snorts, giggles, gasps and groans as each page revealed some new absurdity.
The authors disagree with the scholarly consensus that William Shakespeare was a common actor from Stratford-upon-Avon, instead believing that his name was used as a pseudonym by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The most convincing basis for this belief is a timeline of biographical events from de Vere’s life that seem to be referenced in Shakespeare’s plays and poems (assuming these works are semi-biographical, which the authors in no way prove).
Unfortunately, any reasonable and interesting points are obscured by inane literary analysis using criteria so broad that it soon loses all meaning. The authors start by claiming that Shakespeare’s use of certain common letters and combinations (e.g. o, vo, wo, vvo, eo, ver, fer, fair, etc.) should be interpreted as a purposeful play on the letters and sounds in de Vere’s name and title–a “fingerprint” clue to the author’s real identity. Not satisfied with co-opting such a large number of very common words to support their hypothesis, they then proceed to compare Shakespeare’s writing with other literary works of the time, identifying any similar metaphors, phrases, topics, rhyming word choices, poetic forms, even basic grammatical structure, as “proof” that de Vere was the real author. Ultimately, their tortured reasoning forces them to conclude that de Vere used no less than 37 pseudonyms (many representing real people who were alive at the time) and was single-handedly responsible for the development of 16th-century English literature.
Frustratingly, the authors focus on fluffing up ridiculous arguments with academic terminology in an effort to sound erudite, meanwhile studiously avoiding the performance of any real research that would prove or disprove their hypothesis. I really can’t emphasize enough how absolutely embarrassing and ridiculous the end result is. It’s difficult to write a review because the more detail I try to include, the more we fall down the rabbit hole of insanity. By keeping my analysis fairly short, I am not over-simplifying their arguments, but portraying them in a better light than they appear after closer examination. Still, I can’t resist giving two specific examples of what the amused reader will encounter. At one point the authors analyze the adjective “sweet” thus: “sweet ≡ sv veet ≡ seventeenth Vere” (99). Even the title Much Ado About Nothing is proof of Edward de Vere’s authorship in their eyes, since “Ad is most plausibly a play on Ed, the nickname of the genius lurking behind the Shakespeare pseudonym” (8). Insanity!
Oh, and if you are wondering, as I did, how not just one but TWO academics from the University of Washington could be behind this book, it might help clear things up to know that they were married at the time…
Why I read it: I bought it greatly discounted at a used bookstore many years ago.
Cracking Cases: The Science of Solving Crimes by Dr. Henry C. Lee, with Thomas W. O’Neil, 3/5
Impeccably-credentialed forensic scientist Henry Lee uses five sensational cases to illustrate basics of forensic science and police procedure. Each case is the subject of a detailed description that covers requisite back-stories, overview of the investigation, forensic analysis, descriptions of the trial and result. At the conclusion of each case, Lee focuses in more detail on a specific aspect of forensic science relevant to the case, such as bloodstain pattern analysis, DNA analysis, time of death, and gun shot residue.
Two of this book’s strongest aspects are the author’s obvious expertise and ability to write about sensational material in an un-sensational manner. This book did not feel mercenary in intent and did not leave me with the dirty feeling that much true-crime literature engenders. Given that English is not his first language, writing idiosyncrasies are forgivable; but less forgivable is the dryness of the more technical sections, distracting asides, and the unsatisfactory number of photos and diagrams. I think this FBI-affiliated review of the book provides a very good assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.
[Why I read it: This is a topic that interest me, partly because it puts in a new light the police-procedural TV shows I like to watch. Browsing through the library, this book had me at “Woodchipper Murder Case.”]