The Poisoner's Handbook

Maybe winter is just too long around here but I find myself reading a lot of true crime books lately. The latest in the group is a little gem called The Poisoner's Handbook. The book isn't just about poisons and how they were used to speed up someones death, but it shows the progression of the forensic side of science in the United States.

The book delves into the practices of the New York City Coroner's Office in the early 20th century. It was rife with corruption, not the least bit the professionals we come to expect today. In 1918 a man named Charles Norris was appointed to head the office by a reform minded mayor. Norris was actually a trained pathologist. He had the good fortune to hire a man named Alexander Gettler. Gettler was a talented and driven chemist. The work of these two led to reforms in the FDA as well as the model for medical examiner offices throughout the country.

There are 11 chapters, one for each of 10 poisons. Carbon Monoxide rates 2 chapters. The author demonstrates the uses of the poisons through murder cases the medical examiner's office investigated. Blum not only shows how the lab solved the crime, she shows the progression of technical skill of the office. I found the book fascinating. As a big fan of CSI and Bones this book was just about perfect for me. It reads like fiction even though there is a fair amount of chemistry talk. The descriptions of the murders are not gruesome and are in fact incidental to the main story line - the detection of poison in the body and the rising professionalism of the offices of the medical examiners. Don't let the chemistry stop you. This is a very interesting book and well worth the read.

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
By Blum, Deborah
2010-02 - Penguin Press
9781594202438 Check Our Catalog
BookPage Notable Title

Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Blum follows New York City's first forensic scientists to discover a fascinating Jazz Age story of chemistry and detection, poison and murder. …More

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