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The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the…

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in… (edition 2011)

by Deborah Blum

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1,192816,734 (4.09)105
Title:The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
Authors:Deborah Blum
Info:Penguin Books (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

  1. 30
    Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (BookshelfMonstrosity)
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    The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale (BookshelfMonstrosity)
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    The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry (merovin)
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    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)

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A riveting account of the beginning of the New York Medical Examiner's office, as well as American toxicology/forensic chemistry. The book follows the life of Charles Norris, the first person in charge of that city's dead with a genuine interest in the science and circumstances of how they died.

The book takes the reader through a litany of poisons, from the dangerous quasi-booze of Prohibition to everyone's favorite, arsenic. Norris, with tremendous help from his chief scientist, Alexander Gettler, pioneered the use of science to convict criminals of wrongdoing, as opposed to a policeman's supposition/forced confession.

A very worthwhile read for any loves of history, chemistry or just a good story. ( )
  thoughtbox | May 27, 2016 |
An unexpected treat! There are many kinds of poisons, but back in the early 20th century, there wasn't much knowledge about them. Often it was the case that a substance wasn't even known to be poisonous. Other poisons were known about but it wasn't known how to measure them or assess their action.
It is written with a deceptively breezy style: there's a fair amount of science hiding in there but you barely notice it because the book is heavily laced with tales of nefarious doings and dastardly crimes, as well as tragic stories of ignorance leading to unexpected deaths. Mercury-laden tonics, ubiquitous arsenic distribution, beauty creams fortified with radium or thallium. Cyanide, mercury, carbon monoxide poisoning -- they all were deadly compounds attached to a roster of fascinating stories. But the dogged work of two uncaped crusaders of New York City -- Norris and Gettler, the first medical examiners and toxicologists -- helped create and define the field of forensic medicine. They brought science in to the light to show it could be used to solve crimes. They also tirelessly worked to demonstrate that Prohibition was deadly. It resulted in replacing legal alcohol with toxic alcohol alternatives, and blindness, paralysis and deaths skyrocketed.
They were public service heroes, battling corrupt politicians, lazy bureaucrats, public apathy, and venal greed.
Some battles are never won. Some things never change.
( )
1 vote TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
This book is a non-fiction story of the evolution of using poison in committing crime, particularly murder. In the 1920s, the wide range of poisons and the relatively difficulty of detecting death by poisoning opened the door for forensic science. Charles Norris, a doctor, and Alexander Gettler, a chemist, founded and directed the first toxicology laboratory thus became trailblazers as scientific detectives - old time CSIs. However, Blum goes on to tell the stories of poisons that were effectively uses as weapons and stories of poisons that exist in the everyday world and danger lurks everywhere. This text is a wonderful resource to raise awareness of our environment and the potential life-threatening chemicals that exist and can be masked by physical situation, political coverup, or commercial indifference. This text serves as catalyst for thinking about social justice and serves as a primary resource for a research project.

PBS American Experience https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oj3i61AQJc0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORpeZP0jiCk "The Chemist's War" Deborah Blum TedEd ( )
  sgemmell | Apr 20, 2016 |
A well-researched, well-documented, and very well-written tale of chemical mysteries in early twentieth century New York. Dr. Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of NYC, and his devoted toxicologist, Dr. Alexander Gettler, revolutionized New York's justice system by forcing it to pay attention to scientific evidence. Their painstaking, meticulous, and yet audacious work into chemicals' interactions with mammals helped catch and convict murderers. This isn't all forensic pathology and chemistry, though--there's a great deal of history, all woven together with the anecodotal tales of murderers, bootleggers, and accidental poisoners that Norris & Gettler encountered. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
If you are fascinated by forensic science - specifically how it came to be - then there is no better book in my opinion than this one. Not only was it written in a fun and easy to follow narrative, but it's subject matter is absolutely fascinating and still relevant today. ( )
  echoechokg | Feb 14, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Deborah Blumprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marlo, ColeenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the Haugen family- Dave, Helen, Peter (always), Treaka- and in loving memory of Pamela.
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Until the early nineteenth century few tools existed to detect a toxic substance in a corpse.
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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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