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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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1,112697,432 (4.08)100
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

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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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Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
Poisons, in New York City, in the years around and during Prohibition. Sounds too niche to fill a whole book, but it's not. The story revolves around Charles Norris, the city's first scientifically trained medical examiner. (Previously, it had been a cushy and rather corrupt political position.) The book is separated into chapters on specific poisons, and the stories are often tragic, occasionally a little bit funny, and always fascinating. Great for a lover of chemistry and forensic medicine. ( )
  melydia | Aug 18, 2015 |
The title is a little deceiving, not to mention disturbing to have sitting on your shelf, but the story is very interesting and well written. Charles Norris was the first appointed chief medical examiner in New York City. He had a compelling interest in forensic toxicology in an era when new chemical agents were being introduced at a fantastic rate at the end of WWI. Alexander Gettler was hired by Norris as a toxicologist and forensic chemist.

This book explores their work in a casebook and chronological fashion. Hallmarks of this time period were: after WWI, when manufacturers were exploring new chemical compounds to expand their markets; during prohibition where bootleggers and the government were also exploring chemical means to achieve their ends; and when changing technologies made it possible for these two scientists to unravel and detect the poisons in the bodies of sent to them for examination.

It was an interesting story and a reminder to be wary of the latest new wonder drug that is being pushed on the public. ( )
  tangledthread | May 25, 2015 |
This was a great book. Norris and Gettler were trailblazers in forensic science and toxicology. This was one of those nonfiction books that read like fiction - New York City in the 20s and 30s was alive for me. The process of discover for these two men was fascinating. Many times they had to invent the tests they used to find poison in the bodies of the men and women they saw. Some were accidentally poisoned, some on purpose. ( )
  mlake | Apr 28, 2015 |
Forensic science is such an amazing application of science and to read about its beginnings - their importance, controversy, and suspense - could open up some great discussion in a science classroom.
  ogroft | Apr 14, 2015 |
3.75 stars

The author looks back at the early 20th century in New York City as scientists learn more about various poisonous chemicals. She looks at various deaths (often murders, or suspected murders, but in some cases, accidental deaths) caused by the poisons. Various chemicals she focuses on include chloroform, ethyl alcohol, methyl alcohol, radium, cyanide, carbon monoxide, and more.

I listened to the audio, and although I was interested, I still managed to get distracted at times. I suspect it would have been a full 4 star book for me had I read it in print or ebook. Of course, the true crime aspect makes it a little more interesting, still, with “real-world” applications to the findings. Probably no surprise, but I didn't like the animal testing that was done/described. This one's nonfiction, but it reads like a novel. ( )
  LibraryCin | Jan 26, 2015 |
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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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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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