‘A wonderful book’ – Guardian
Truth, murder and the birth of the lie detector
Henry Wilkens burst through the doors of the emergency room covered in his wife’s blood. But was he a grieving husband, or a ruthless killer who’d conspired with bandits to have her murdered?
To find out, the San Francisco police turned to technology, and a new machine that had just been invented in Berkeley by a rookie detective, a visionary police chief, and a teenage magician with a showman’s touch.
John Larson, Gus Vollmer and Leonarde Keeler hoped the lie detector would make the justice system fairer – but the flawed device soon grew too powerful for them to control. It poisoned their lives, turned fast friends into bitter enemies, and as it conquered America and the world, it transformed our relationship with the truth in ways that are still being felt.
As new forms of lie detection gain momentum in the present day, Tremors in the Blood reveals the incredible truth behind the creation of the polygraph, through gripping true crime cases featuring explosive gunfights, shocking twists and high-stakes courtroom drama.
Touching on psychology, technology and the science of the truth, Tremors in the Blood is a vibrant, atmospheric thriller, and a warning from history: be careful what you believe.
Amit Katwala is a Senior Editor at WIRED, based in London. He writes about the collision between technology and culture, and has covered everything from the race for quantum supremacy to the hunt for the mysterious Planet Nine. He has been shortlisted for multiple awards by the Sports Journalists’ Association and the Association of British Science Writers. He grew up in Bournemouth, and studied Experimental Psychology at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. His first book, The Athletic Brain, was published in 2016.
'A gripping and densely reported account of a little-known period of history, with implications for how we understand science to this day. I was hooked.' Sirin Kale, feature writer for The Guardian -
'Katwala manages to bring history alive in this riveting delve back into the archives, placing you right at the heart of one of the most consequential - and controversial - inventions in criminal history.' Chris Stokel-Walker, author of TikTok Boom and YouTubers -
'A gripping, forensically detailed account that reads more like a mystery than history.' Angela Saini, author of Superior and Inferior -
”'A wonderful book … tells the story of the lie detector, from the first, gripping murder case for which it was conceived, up to its use today in the justice system.” - Guardian
”'Certainly demonstrates how easily the polygraph can be manipulated…deploys its twists and maintains suspense with some skill….Katwala tells his various tales with admirable lucidity….rich with colourful incidental detail.” - Telegraph
”'Tremors in the Blood, a cautionary tale about the limits of technology and the fallibility of humans, is as dramatic as any thriller” - . Times
”'With a cinematic narrative style that often reads more like a thriller than a work of history…Katwala charts how the (polygraph) machine tore apart the lives of the men who invented it, and explores how it led to the deaths of many more who failed to pass its test.” - New Statesmen
”'A thrilling, page-turning near-novelisation of the development of what we now know as the polygraph…Katwala’s meticulous archival research, centred around two high-profile US murder cases - those of Henry Wilkens and Joseph Rappaport - is worthy of any thriller.” - The Spectator