The Mammoth

Original long-form nonfiction narrative writing

Selected: Paige Williams on the Boston Bombings

By Karl Whitney.


In the initial media scrum after an event such as the bombing of the Boston Marathon on Monday, it’s often difficult to produce thoughtful, informative reporting, especially in a long form. That’s one of the things that makes this New Yorker piece by Paige Williams about the science of forensics so remarkable. Williams strolls around Boston the day after the bombing (yesterday, Tuesday 16th April) with Dr Adam B. Hall, a forensic chemist and former crime-scene analyst. In the process she gains much insight into the kind of questions investigators will be asking about the bombings while also, impressively, sketching a profile of Dr Hall. Williams finds significance in the precise physical details of their conversation:

He used poured sugar and tiny creamer containers and a spoon smacked against a saucer to make a point about friction, and about the energy levels required to detonate certain explosions.

While the engagement with place gives the piece an immediacy that phone-based interviews with experts simply can’t supply, it’s the choice of interviewee that gives the article both its authority and a certain tension between the hands-on practicality of crime-scene investigation and the more theoretical lab-based work that Dr Hall seems currently engaged in. That tension is, expertly, made explicit in the final sentence.



This entry was posted on April 17, 2013 by in Selected non-fiction and tagged , , .


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