Cover: Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification, from Harvard University PressCover: Suspect Identities in PAPERBACK

Suspect Identities

A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification

Add to Cart

Product Details


$33.00 • £26.95 • €29.50

ISBN 9780674010024

Publication Date: 10/30/2002

Academic Trade

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

13 halftones, 4 line illustrations, 6 tables


Related Subjects

For most of the century since it made its courtroom debut, fingerprinting has enjoyed an impeccable reputation for identifying criminals. What jury would acquit a suspect if his prints matched those found at the scene of a crime? …Simon Cole…is one of a small group of people that has started looking at the technique which, above all others, gave forensic ‘science’ its scientific status. And, surprisingly, he has found it is scientifically and statistically wanting.The Economist

For almost a century, fingerprinting remained one of the most respected tools of forensic science. Only in the early nineties did faith in its reliability begin to erode. In [Suspect Identities], Simon A. Cole recounts how a number of cases involving the New York State Police revealed tampering with fingerprint evidence, as well as the incompetence of many police labs.—William Cohen, The New Yorker

[A] fascinating, thought-provoking book.Science

Simon A. Cole’s well-written and interesting book is a cultural, social, and scientific history of fingerprint identification. It makes the intriguing argument that scientific merit had nothing to do with the acceptance of fingerprints as uniquely good identification evidence.—Adina Schwartz, New York Law Journal

Cole’s treatment of fingerprinting is…commendable… [He] shows that…court cases…were not quite as singular in ascendancy of fingerprinting over the Bertillon system, but rather added weights that finally tipped the scales in favor of fingerprinting; he is also cautionary about its claim to absolute reliability.Booklist

Cole weaves the intriguing tale of how and why people were identified as who they claimed to be. This history begins in the era where identification was largely unnecessary because people did not travel very far and were known in their own communities. As both travel and criminal behavior increased, the need to identify people grew… Cole describes the ancient use of fingerprints up through time until they became commonplace for use in identifying criminals. He presents an excellent account of the problems and controversies surrounding the use of fingerprints for identification, ending with the current issues of using DNA for identification. The illustrative stories are excellent, making this a fascinating trip through identification history.—J. A. Brown, Choice

Cole’s comprehensive…book investigates the tangled intersections of scientific identification and law enforcement…[with] rigorous detail and attention to historical ambiguities… This well-wrought history will be admired by scholars and serious lay readers.Publishers Weekly

Cole’s Suspect Identities is far more than a masterly and detailed chronicle of the journey from the anonymous mobile stranger in the seventeenth century to today’s DNA-fingerprinted sex offender whose moves are tracked via the Internet. It is also an astute analysis of the social, political, and economic forces that explain why the journey took certain paths. This book sets the high benchmark for scholarship in this area.—Troy Duster, New York University

Suspect Identities is a fascinating account of an important subject. In his history of identification techniques from fingerprints to DNA, Simon Cole tells the story of our recurring attempts to forge reliable links between bodies, persons, and crimes. As Cole shows in these pages, the aim of these techniques, from Martin Guerre to O. J. Simpson, is not just to link persons with criminal acts. It is to link persons to themselves, to establish their identities with the certainty of science, and to use these identifiers for bureaucratic and diagnostic purposes. And therein lies their danger, as well as their usefulness, as critics of ‘DNA fingerprinting’ are beginning to discover. Written with intelligence, wit, and insight, this book will stand as the definitive account for a long time to come.—David Garland, author of The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Late Modernity

Suspect Identities shows that a fascinating journey through the history of science can illuminate current controversies. This well-written book teaches us as much about the problems facing forensic scientists today as it does the history of fingerprinting.—Barry Scheck, Co-Director, The Innocence Project

Awards & Accolades

  • 2003 Rachel Carson Prize, Society for Social Studies of Science
The China Questions 2: Critical Insights into US–China Relations, edited by Maria Adele Carrai, Jennifer Rudolph, and Michael Szonyi, from Harvard University Press

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Marking the 75th Anniversary of Independence from British Rule

August 14 and August 15 mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of independence from British rule for Pakistan and India, respectively. Inextricably linked to the birth of these two South Asian nations is the 1947 Partition of the subcontinent that tragically accompanied the end of British colonialism.