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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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1,267846,234 (4.09)106
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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    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 84 (next | show all)
This is a fascinating look at the birth of forensic science in the United States from 1917 through the 1930's; specifically, at the revolutionary changes brought about by two men: the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, Charles Norris, and toxicologist Alexander Gettler. It's well-written, engrossing, and sometimes even sensational.

The book is divided up by chapters, each representing one of the prevailing poisons of the jazz-age era and the crimes committed with them, with an inevitable focus on the effects of prohibition. While there are some deviations within each chapter in order to maintain a chronology in the historical narrative, each chapter focusses on breaking down a specific poison, its physiological effects and methods of detection. Blum does this in a way that is both accessible and fascinating...and sometimes gruesome.

My only complaints are purely personal: Blum wrote a thorough, comprehensive history of these two great men, but that requires a discussion of animal experiments, something I can't tolerate even as I recognise their contributions. I also found that the emphasis on the dangers of prohibition-era alcohols grew tedious. There's no way to write a history of this time frame without methyl- and ethyl- alcohols dominating the history, but I still found myself growing a bit weary of reading about them towards the end.

What these two men accomplished in their time was phenomenal; their dedication, their perseverance is downright inspiring. If you enjoy science and/or history, I'd recommend this book without reservation. ( )
  murderbydeath | Oct 16, 2016 |
Very informative and somewhat shocking. This chronicles the birth of toxicology, and specifically how that came to be used in the criminal justice system. Several toxins are addressed and described, along with the deaths they caused. Very interesting the science and processes developed to test for different poisons. ( )
  BrittanyLyn | Jun 22, 2016 |
The biochemistry of poison, poisoners, workers poisoned by indifferent industries, poisonous hooch during Prohibition, death on and murder by choice or indifference or greed, set in New York during the roaring Twenties. A superlative telling of laboratory detective work by Norris and Gettler in the office of the Medical Examiner. I couldn’t get enough of this book.
( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
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.
Fascinating.
( )
1 vote TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
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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.
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Until the early nineteenth century few tools existed to detect a toxic substance in a corpse.
Quotations
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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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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