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The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the…

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz…

by Deborah Blum

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,576937,134 (4.11)120
  1. 60
    Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  2. 40
    The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  3. 20
    The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry (merovin)
  4. 10
    The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko (JenniferRobb)
    JenniferRobb: Both books look at early stages in history of forensics (though in different areas of the USA).
  5. 10
    The Killer of Little Shepherds by Douglas Starr (391)
    391: The Killer of Little Shepherds both have to do with the advent of forensic science; one set in rural France, in the attempt to track down a vicious serial killer, the other set in 1920s New York during Prohibition. Both are excellent books that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the vanguards of forensics!… (more)
  6. 10
    The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery by Sam Kean (KCampana)
    KCampana: Both books report the history of science (specifically of the human body) in an engaging, approachable manner.

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» See also 120 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 94 (next | show all)
During the first third of the 20th century, the average American citizen was exposed to many chemicals and lives made better with their use. Chloroform was being used as an anesthetic, wood alcohol could be used to make varnish, and cyanide was effectively used as a metal polisher. However, each chemical innovation can, and often does, have negative consequences.

This book's title belies the true purpose of this book, which was to detail the careers of two individuals who operated out of NYC's Bellevue Hospital, who helped to bring forensic science and toxicology into the 20th century. The two were chief medical examiner Charles Norris and forensic toxicologist Alexander Gettler. Charles Norris believed so passionately in his work that he often battled the city government to create a premiere forensic laboratory often personally funding some of its expenses using his own salary when support wasn't given. Gettler established forensic procedures to identity the various toxins highlighted in each of this book's chapter headings. These two individuals helped provide evidence against poisoners who murdered significant others as well as exonerate other individuals falsely accused of crimes.

The book's novel, Deborah Blum, writes that "anything, in a large enough amount, can kill", however, many of the toxins included in this book required surprising little to cause some horrific deaths. Charles Norris, not only battled NYC's bureaucracy but advocated for legislative changes for better toxin control. His work assisted in the repeal of the 18th Amendment which established prohibition and an underground alcohol beverage industry, which resulted in numerous, unnecessary deaths. My description doesn't do justice to Deborah Blum's description of these two forensic scientists; thank goodness that Ms. Blum does. ( )
  John_Warner | Jul 12, 2019 |
This book scared the hell out of me. ( )
  sblock | May 6, 2019 |
Story of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler and how they revolutionized forensic medicine in the early 1900's in New York City. My copy is inscribed by the author, who I met in February 2018. ( )
  Pferdina | Mar 3, 2019 |
This book is full of interesting information about the history of forensic science and various poisons but it isn't very well organized. The stories are thrown together and there is no underlying theme that draws the book together. In the afterword, the author says that the book is about two pioneering toxicologists, but that's news to me. Deborah Blum needs an editor. ( )
  bookishblond | Oct 24, 2018 |
Interesting book in regards to how things were during Prohibition and how foresnic science developed. Also, distrubing was the thought process of how to make people stop drinking alcohol. The book is non-fiction but not written in the depth of a textbook. People with chemistry degrees will find it too "light" in the subject but the rest of us regular folk will find the technical information enlightening; at least I did. ( )
  gac53 | Oct 22, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 94 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Deborah Blumprimary authorall editionscalculated
Marlo, ColeenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the Haugen family- Dave, Helen, Peter (always), Treaka- and in loving memory of Pamela.
First words
Until the early nineteenth century few tools existed to detect a toxic substance in a corpse.
Prohibition is a joke. It has deprived the poor working man of his beer and it has flooded the country with rat poison. - Brooklyn magistrate
The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol. It knows what the bootleggers are doing with it and yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States Government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible. - Charles Norris
Only one possessing the instincts of a wild beast would desire to kill or make blind the man who takes a drink of liquor, even if he purchased it from one violating the Prohibition statues.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Shares the story of how the appointment of Charles Norris as chief medical examiner in New York in 1918 dramatically slowed the incidence of murder by poisoning, and looks at how Norris worked together with toxicologist Alexander Gettler to investigate chemistry-related deaths and disorders and to establish the discipline of forensics.
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Science journalist Deborah Blum shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. She tracks the perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Drama unfolds case by case as chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle and Norris and Gettler create revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. From the vantage of their laboratory it also becomes clear that murderers aren't the only toxic threat--modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner.--From publisher description.… (more)

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