The Scientific Sherlock Holmes


When one looks at the idea of learning to think like a fictional character, you definitely have to take said idea with a pinch of salt. For there is no set list of things to do or not do, there are a variety of lessons we can learn from the Canon, but to put them into practice nowadays is an entirely different kettle of fish. It relies upon an acknowledgement of what works for you on an idiosyncratic level. We know the wheelhouse of methods and approaches,things he was good at doing as well as things he wasn’t so good at doing. There are many books that look at Holmes’ approach to problem solving, as well as his observational and reasoning skills. There are few that look at his scientific skill, even less that shine such a magnifying glass on the methods that are discussed in depth in this book and that is the reason for me choosing it as my first review.

To put it quite succinctly, The Scientific Sherlock Holmes by James O’ Brien is a book that I absolutely adore. That adoration never dwindles with each time I peruse its contents. In particular because it references the difference between the fiction of the tales and how the techniques would work in reality. The sciences the book enumerates is plentiful and varied. The Bertillion fingerprint approach, footprints, written text, codes, dogs (this is a particularly insightful part due to the way that Mr.O’Brien highlights the way that dogs are utilised in investigative in today’s world. As well as their pros and cons and what the histories of using dogs in detection are. I find the histories of any technique to be very useful because it helps you to better understand how and why a technique works.) As many aspects of chemistry as any Sherlockian would need.

To touch on the histories again, they are concise and to the point. Though not in such a way that it detracts from any useful information not being there. They may be abridged but that only means that the passages contain all useful pieces of knowledge to be stored away safely in the attic of everyone’s memories. For the sherlockian each piece of science is accurately compared to the scene or scenes that it is used in the Canon.

The ‘other sciences ‘ chapter toward the end of the book contains gold on maths, biology, physics, astronomy, geology and meteorology. A veritable cornucopia of Holmesian delights showing not only the full workings of how to complete some of the seemingly offhand mental calisthenics the famed detective is capable of but demonstrating alternative uses too. Discussed within those final pages is how to tell a person’s height from the size of their stride, the geometric principles behind divining the height of the infamous tree in the Musgrave Ritual is taught and showing the maths behind calculating the speed of the train in The Silver Blaze and how we can utilise these thoughts ourselves, today.

There is no doubt that this book contains a lot of well thought through and useful information. It shows the parallels between real life and the Canon and the differences between the techniques as well as highlighting any pros and cons, which is something I really enjoy given that it is my current vocation. It presents a valuable and worthwhile read for any who are in pursuit of sharpening their mind, and for the avid Sherlock fan who aims to develop a skill set like the famed genius, you will see the dedication it will take to reach the success you want but above all, that it is possible!

It is a very different look into the head and mind of Sherlock Holmes, but very worthwhile and worthy of every penny and minute contour time you will invest in it.

Best wishes and happy studying!