The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Blum does a wonderful job of portraying the lives and work of Dr. Charles Norris, New York's first professional chief medical examiner, and Alexander Gettler, a tireless toxicologists and researcher. She shows how prevalent and easily available various poisons were in New York during the early 20th century. The descriptions of the havoc left behind by the different poisons, which frame each section of the book, are succinct with a touch of Blum's flair for the right detail without being gratuitous — an interesting balancing act to read. As we learn about each poison, Blum provides examples of actual crimes and accidental deaths related to them. Ironically, one of the more horrific times for alcohol-related deaths was Prohibition due to people imbibing industrial alcohol adulterated with government-sanctioned chemicals that were supposed to deter them. Despite what some may say and think of them today, the Food and Drug Administration was finally given expanded regulatory oversight over numerous manufactured products such as pesticides, makeup, and food and alcohol. Norris and Gettler's hard work, persistence, and rigorous research helped pave the way to a safer world.
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(It's scary how much Blum knows about how to poison a person ... which makes for a very funny "Author's Note.")
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