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

by Deborah Blum

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960None8,992 (4.08)88
Member:jbrahney
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
Rating:****
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The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

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  1. 20
    The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  2. 10
    The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry (merovin)
  3. 10
    Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  4. 00
    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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» See also 88 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
I have LOVED reading this book more than anything I've read in a while. It's so hard for non-fiction to be riveting -- and for chemistry of all things to keep me up late with a book! Awesome.

My quibbles on how many stars to give are based on the ending wrapping up a bit weaker than I'd hoped. I wish she'd concluded with some mention of chemical warfare being used in Europe and implications for US military research into chemical warfare for of WW2. That's an entire book of its own (that's already been written, I'm sure), but Blum gives enough time to mustard gas and other noxious WW1 experiments that a final look at that would have given a better sense of closure.

But apart from that, omg LOVE. All the original research shows, and the bibliography is fantastic. Life in the Prohibition Era, and this vast array of known unregulated poisons being available to anyone, is so fascinating. It's hard to imagine that the FDA didn't get any meaningful power until 1938.

Also, the bit on radium creeped me the hell out. What a horrific way to die.

Right, so, this book made my inner history geek and forensic pathology geek VERY happy. And I learned a little chemistry along the way.

Other bits: When I put this on hold in the library, there were sixteen people ahead of me in the hold queue. I don't want to return this copy. ( )
1 vote sageness | Feb 7, 2014 |
I read this book for a book club and boy am I glad they picked this one.

I've seen some other reviews complaining that it's heavier on the history than it is on the science, but I found it to be a good mix of the two. The focus is on the work of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, New York City's first medical examiner and toxicologist, respectively. We learn about developments in forensic science through their work: the main cases they come up against, the political climate, and the time period in which they lived. Blum paints their world so clearly with some of the best storytelling I've ever experienced in a piece of nonfiction. You get a thrilling narrative, a 1920s-1930s history education, and hard scientific facts all in one fun package. I was so taken in by the story that I had to force myself to take it slow so as to be able to retain my knowledge for my book club meeting.

This book was fantastic. You should read it. ( )
  olivenerd | Feb 3, 2014 |
Found it very interesting! ( )
  sar96 | Jan 2, 2014 |
Found it very interesting! ( )
  sar96 | Jan 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
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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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