The poisoner’s handbook

April 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm (Uncategorized)

Like many people I enjoy detective novels and TV shows. I also like crosswords, sudoku puzzles, the new Kenken puzzles and playing scrabble. Maybe it’s something about our species but we do seem to love mysteries.

Deborah Blum’s new book The Poisoner’s Handbook (Penguin, 2010)  is a history of the development of forensic science in the New York coroner’s office. Principally it is the story of two men, chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler, but the book is so much more than that.

It’s also the story of dozens of different poisons, naturally occurring nad otherwise, and also the story of dozens of prominent poisoning murders. Like the lover of the detective story trying to figure out the killer’s identity, Norris and Gettler both waged long battles to discover the truth in a series of complex and baffling murder cases. But Blum also covered the effects of prohibition, where every drink became russian roulette, and newer poisons around with as the motor car became widespread.  

Blum’s book is written in a fast paced and very readable style. Well worth spending some time with, but you might hesitate the next time someone offers you food…



  1. jo said,

    Nice intro. Make me wanna get rid of the House and read it immediately.

    • fischerzed said,

      Made me want to stay home, and not trust anyone. When a colleague at work today offered me a doughnut, I took it, but a little voice whispered, “Beware the poison doughnut…”

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