Vampire Forensics by Mark Jenkins

After a brief insurrection by their blue collar offspring, zombies, vampires have once more regained their prominence as the monster supreme, leaping out at us from every bookshelf, cinema screen and TV set. What better time then for Mark Jenkins to unleash his accomplished study of the bloodsucker legend, Vampire Forensics.

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Published through National Geographic Books and accompanied by a television documentary, Vampire Forensics delves into the long history of the vampire, one which began millennia before a certain Bram Stoker set pen to parchment. Drawing upon the latest research in anthropology, archaeology, folklore and history, Jenkins dusts away centuries of revisionism and misconception to reveal the true origins of the myth.

Any study of mythological creatures, especially one as pervasive as the vampire, can be a tricky business. Where does canon end and embellishment start, when there's no difference between the two? Fittingly for their species, these endlessly repeated slips of folklore shrink away from scrutiny, visible from a distance but becoming indistinct on closer examination. Thankfully for us, Jenkins approaches the subject with a clear head and a meticulous pen, teasing out the first whispers of the walking dead from fragments of Persian pottery and papal investigations. As recently as the 19th century, vampires were lent the benefit of the doubt as to their existence by even the most learned men of the time - and why not at a time when Giovanni Aldini was resurrecting corpses at the Royal College of Surgeons in London?

Anyone with an interest in vampires will find a wealth of curios to entertain them - from the origin of Dracula's high-collared cape to the events that turned Vlad the Impaler from wealthy nobleman to bloodthirsty war general. But for the most part, Vampire Forensics is a tremendously absorbing piece of popular anthropology, and a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in how Europe's dark and bloody history shaped the creatures of our imagination.

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On Tuesday, Feb. 23, National Geographic Explorer will be devoting an episode to "Vampire Forensics." You can preview a brief clip below the fold, but I'll warn you now: it's not CSI. It's more scientific ("unfortunately this evidence is inconclusive" LOL) and less sexy (inexplicably, Emily…
The somewhat elusive central thesis of M.C. Jenkins's new book Vampire Forensics is that original European vampire folklore was based upon misinterpretation of the slow decay that occurs when you bury a body deep. Particularly so during epidemics, when upon discovery an unusually well-preserved…
I couldn't say why, but I have never been very interested in stories about vampires. I have never read Dracula, I have no interest in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or True Blood, and I think Twilight is some of the worst literary and movie cheese to come out in a while, but despite my general apathy…
I've always been a huge vampire fan -- I watched my first Dracula movie when I was about 8-10 years old, on TV, one of the vintage Hammer films with Christopher Lee. I read the original novel when I was a teenager and was a fan of the Marvel comic versions as well. Since then, I've read a zillion…

Looks interesting :D I've always loved vampires and I've always been interested in their origins.

I'm reading it now. A title like "A cultural history of vampires" would be more appropriate, I think, but maybe there is some more science in there that I have not gotten to yet. It is an entertaining book, no doubt about that, but I was expecting a little more forensics and a bit less about vampires in popular culture.

Thank you for this review. I already wanted to give this book a read and now, based on your post, I really would like to check it out. Especially as you mention we will find 'a wealth of curios.'