The Poisoner's Handbook

The Poisoner's Handbook

by Deborah Blum

Gail Reid: The Poisoner's Handbook tells the true story of some early 20th century cases of poisoning -- both intentional and unintentional -- to illustrate the pioneering work of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler in developing the new field of forensic science. Clearly, their dedication to the field, their struggle for government funding and their battle against political corruption form the backbone of this book. The author is also unwavering in her account of needless deaths from wood alcohol poisoning during Prohibition as well as industry's responsibility for the the tragic deaths and disfigurements from unregulated use of radium.

For any CSI fan, the book has some wonderful true cases to chew on; and for any history buff, the development of forensic science is intriguing and well documented. And, if you are a science geek, the author spends a large part of the book analyzing the chemical compounds for their poisonous attributes.

Although this 2010 book is an interesting read, I found Blum's structure challenging to follow. Jumping around from the cases to the work of the forensic team and then to the impact on the country and back to the chemical analysis made for a difficult scramble. Yet, there is something in it for every reader; so, for a foray into the non-fiction world, this book would work well.
Rating: ***

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