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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
1,9401156,847 (4.09)126
The untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. 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. 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.… (more)
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  4. 20
    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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    The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry (merovin)
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    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).
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» See also 126 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 115 (next | show all)
cultrre description
  pendergrass | Mar 10, 2022 |
there are no important lessons here, just fascinating stories
  rottweilersmile | Feb 28, 2022 |
Deborah Blum explores the birth of forensic medicine in New York City with a focus on two key figures: Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler. Her use of fictional-style prose at many points in the novel really drew me in. I read this book on a trans-Atlantic flight, and it helped the hours fly by.

The book was organized almost like a series of inter-connected short stories, with each chapter focusing on a different kind of poison. Many case studies were included, some solved and others not. I found this to be a unique and interesting way of organization, though others may find it to be slightly disconnected.

As someone with very little knowledge about toxicology and chemistry in general, Blum did an excellent job of laying out the many scientific concepts she explores in the book in an easy-to-understand and entertaining fashion. However, people with more knowledge in these areas may not appreciate the lack of technicality, nor the time spent on topics other than toxicology such as her exploration of the implications of Prohibition or the politics of New York City at the time. The science of toxicology is certainly an important theme in the book, but it is not the only one explored.

Do note: Blum explores the effects of various poisons and the methods used to test for them in detail. You may want to avoid this book if you are squeamish about such subjects.

For more of my reviews, please visit:
( )
  mintlovesbooks | Feb 24, 2022 |
Listened to audiobook version as was quite good though a few reading errors. The content was a good mix of history, mystery and science. Recommended. ( )
  eby | Jan 31, 2022 |
Deborah Blum wrote an outstanding book. It is combination science text, biography and history. I laughed. I gasped. I was outraged. I was saddened. This is a very good book.

Note: If you saw the PBS American Experience espisode that premiered on January 7, 2014 you saw the book. It was very well done. ( )
  nab6215 | Jan 18, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 115 (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.
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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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The untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. 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. 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.

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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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Tantor Media

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