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The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York Hardcover – Feb 23 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (Feb. 23 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202435
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202438
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.9 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #369,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“The Poisoner’s Handbook is an inventive history that, like arsenic, mixed into blackberry pie, goes down with ease.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Blum illuminates these tales of Norris and Gettler and their era with a dedication and exuberance that reflect the men themselves. Not only is The Poisoner's Handbook as thrilling as any CSI episode, but it also offers something even better: an education in how forensics really works.” —The Washington Post

“Blum, a longtime newspaper writer and now a professor of science journalism at the University of Wisconsin, skillfully explains the chemistry behind Gettler's experiments. Her book is sure to appeal to mystery lovers, science nerds and history buffs. . . .”—Associated Press

“Fast-paced and suspenseful, The Poisoner’s Handbook breathes deadly life into the Roaring Twenties.”—Financial Times

“All the nitty-gritty about death by arsenic, by thallium, by wood alcohol, is here in precise, gruesome detail.  It makes for a stomach-turning read. . . . .Ms. Blum’s combination of chemistry and crime fiction creates a vicious, page-turning story that reads more like Raymond Chandler than Madame Curie.”—New York Observer

“In this bubbling beaker of a book, [Blum] mixes up a heady potion of forensic toxicology, history and true crime. . . . The Poisoner's Handbook will get into your head. You'll find yourself questioning the chemicals in our everyday lives. What's really in our food, cosmetics, pesticides, cleaning supplies, children's toys and pet dinners? This isn't just a good read. It's a summons to study labels, research, think and act.”—Dallas Morning News

“The Poisoner's Handbook succeeds as science, as history, as entertainment and as an argument for the power and purpose of popular science writing.”—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

 “One thinks of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City . . . a book that gave splendiferously disgusting descriptions of horrible murders and did it so dexterously and intelligently that even readers who wouldn't normally read a true crime book were happily sucked in. Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York is that kind of book.” —New Haven Advocate

“Blum has cooked up a delicious, addictive brew:  murder, forensic toxicology, New York City in the 20s, the biochemistry of poison.  I loved this book. I knocked it back in one go and now I want more!”—Mary Roach, author of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers


“The Poisoner's Handbook opens one riveting murder case after another in this chronicle of Jazz Age chemical crimes where the real-life twists and turns are as startling as anything in fiction. Deborah Blum turns us all into forensic detectives by the end of this expertly written, dramatic page-turner that will transform the way you think about the power of science to threaten and save our lives.”—Matthew Pearl, author of The Last Dickens and The Dante Club

“The Poisoner's Handbook is a wonderfully compelling hybrid of history and science built around eccentric characters. One scene reads like Patricia Cornwell and the next like Oliver Sacks. From movie stars and aristocrats to homicidal grandmothers and entrepreneurial gangsters, from the government's poisoning of alcohol during Prohibition to the dangers of radiation and automobile pollution, Blum follows an amazing array of poignant tragedies through the laboratory of these crusading public servants.—Michael Sims, author of Apollo's Fire and Adam's Navel

“With the pacing and rich characterization of a first-rate suspense novelist, Blum makes science accessible and fascinating.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Caviar for true-crime fans and science buffs alike.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Formative figures in forensics, Norris and Gettler become fascinating crusaders in Blum’s fine depiction of their work in the law-flouting atmosphere of Prohibition-era New York.”—Booklist

About the Author

Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Blum is a professor of science journalism at the University of Wisconsin. She worked as a newspaper science writer for twenty years, winning the Pulitzer in 1992 for her writing about primate research, which she turned into a book, The Monkey Wars (Oxford, 1994). Her other books include Sex on the Brain (Viking, 1997) and Love at Goon Park (Perseus, 2002). She has written about scientific research for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Discover, Health, Psychology Today, and Mother Jones. She is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers and now serves on an advisory board to the World Federation of Science Journalists and the National Academy of Sciences.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alison S. Coad TOP 50 REVIEWER on Dec 6 2010
Format: Hardcover
I seem to be on a 1920s kick lately; at any rate, I'm reading a lot of books set in that period. "The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York," by Deborah Blum, is no exception, covering a period between 1920 and 1936, during and just after Prohibition in the United States. The book is primarily concerned with describing the work and crusades of New York City's Chief Medical Examiner, Charles Norris, and his chief toxicologist, Alexander Gettler, to discover new means of detecting poison in the bodies of victims, and to get the government (municipal, State and ultimately Federal) to put restrictions on the use of various poisonous substances in the manufacture of everyday items. The book is structured as a series of chapters about particular chemicals, including chloroform, wood alcohol, cyanide, arsenic, mercury, carbon monoxide (2 chapters), methyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol and thallium, and each chapter is illustrated both by descriptions of the scientists' experiments and findings on each chemical, along with one or more case histories of real victims, including innocents wrongfully accused of murder by poison who are exonerated by science, which at that time was only just being recognized as providing important evidence in criminal cases.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. J. Thompson TOP 500 REVIEWER on Jan. 4 2011
Format: Hardcover
The title of the book doesn't really give you a good idea as to the content. I received it as a gift and did not know what to expect when I began to read it but I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. The book centers around New York City's first Medical Examiner, Charles Norris, his talented Chief Toxicologist, Alexander Gettler, and the birth of American forensic toxicology. That might sound like a bit of a dry read but Ms Blum really makes the story interesting. Her prose is both light and lively and she interweaves the main narrative with all sorts of interesting little digressions. It kept me captivated all the way through.
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Format: Hardcover
In the early 1900s New York, like any sprawling city, exhibited the best and the worst of human behavior. Some of New York's worst came under the lax scrutiny of the elected coroners, not always the sober and honest guardians of the public that they should have been. Poisoners, among other criminals, were often able to walk away scot-free because the devious ways of poison were poorly understood.

In 1918 the city established its first true medical examiner system, and the wealthy and well-educated Dr. Charles Norris took over as its leader. Norris and his top forensic chemist, Alexander Gettler, were in the vanguard of the new science of forensics. The Poisoner's Handbook is the story of these innovative men, and of the toxic substances they worked so hard to understand.

Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum devotes each chapter of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York to a different poison, explaining its chemistry and effects, a case or two in which it's used with nefarious intent, and the work of Norris and Gettler in developing tests and conducting forensic examinations. Blum discusses arsenic, chloroform, mustard and other toxic wartime gases, cyanide, mercury, carbon monoxide, radium (pity the clock-dial painters who sharpened their brushes between their lips!), lead, and less well-known but deadly substances such as thallium. These poisons are used for fumigation, to hurry inheritances, in support of sheer greed, and sometimes out of desperation or ignorance.

The science is not at all overwhelming, if you don't mind some talk of minced organs and dismemberment.
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By G. Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWER on March 18 2010
Format: Hardcover
Many books on forensic sciences, aimed at a general readership, have been written over recent years. I have read many of them and, in my view, this is one of the most spellbinding. In the early twentieth century, forensic medicine and forensic toxicology were in their infancy - then along came two great pioneers, Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler. Struggling through the Great Depression and the Prohibition years, they would develop these fields into reliable, indispensable tools in the war on crime. Using, as vehicles, the professional lives of these two scientists working in New York City, the author focuses on the criminal uses of various poisons. Although each chapter concentrates mainly on a particular poison: its availability, its effects on the human body, its detection in human tissue, etc., as well as on related criminal cases, there is some amount of spill-over from prior chapters in both the poisons used and the criminal investigations. This establishes more continuity in the overall narrative than would be the case if each chapter were to stand alone. The poisons featured include chloroform, wood alcohol, cyanides, arsenic, mercury, carbon monoxide, radium, ethanol and thallium. In addition to being clear, friendly and accessible, the most salient feature of the writing style is its tremendously engaging nature; the book is very hard to put down. This is a book that should appeal to all forensic science buffs as well as general readers who love to read good true crime stories.
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