The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum
Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

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Synopsis

***PBS's AMERICAN EXPERIENCE released a film based on The Poisoner's Handbook in January 2014***

Equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner's Handbook is "a vicious, page-turning story that reads more like Raymond Chandler than Madame Curie" (The New York Observer)

A fascinating Jazz Age tale of chemistry and detection, poison and murder, The Poisoner's Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten era. In early twentieth-century New York, poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Science had no place in the Tammany Hall-controlled coroner's office, and corruption ran rampant. However, with the appointment of chief medical examiner Charles Norris in 1918, the poison game changed forever. Together with toxicologist Alexander Gettler, the duo set the justice system on fire with their trailblazing scientific detective work, triumphing over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice.
 

About Deborah Blum

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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. She is the author of Ghost Hunters and coeditor of A Field Guide for Science Writers, and 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 (U.S.) and serves as the North American board member of the World Federation of Science Journalists.
 
Published February 18, 2010 by Penguin Press HC, The. 336 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Professional & Technical, Computers & Technology, Science & Math, Law & Philosophy, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Poisoner's Handbook

Kirkus Reviews

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Blum recounts the famous cases of the day, including the factory workers who painted glow-in-the-dark watch dials with radium paint, poisoned as they put their brushes in their mouths to touch up the point;

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The New York Times

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A rich history of the development of forensics in New York, by a Pulitzer-winning science writer.

Feb 28 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Publishers Weekly

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Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist Blum (Ghost Hunters ) makes chemistry come alive in her enthralling account of two forensic pioneers in early 20th-century New York.

Dec 14 2009 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

NPR

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Deborah Blum's history of the birth of forensic science details the work of Charles Norris, New York City's first chief medical examiner, and Alexander Gettler, Norris' head toxicologist. The two advanced many of the technologies that allow scientists to track toxic substances in the body.

Mar 09 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Star Tribune

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A science lesson, a history book and a compelling narrative all rolled into one, Blum's book is both illuminating and irresistibly readable.

Mar 13 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

The Washington Post

After their extensive scientific evidence failed to bring a conviction in a 1922 cyanide case, Norris and Gettler were told that "toxicology was such a new science, it was awfully hard to educate and convince a jury simultaneously."

Feb 21 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Dallas News

From Germany's use of poison gas in World War I (and Britain's return attack with captured mustard gas shells) to the hundreds of New Yorkers who died of wood alcohol poisoning during the so-called "noble experiment" of Prohibition, this is a page-turning, mind-bending trip through early 20th-cen...

Feb 28 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Not all poisons are elegant, and Blum's necessary emphasis on alcohol poisoning (which zoomed up 600% between 1920 and 1930) acts as a subtle reminder that Wars on Substances of any stripe prove to be more costly, inefficient, and damaging than the drug itself.

Feb 15 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Denver Post

The author divides her book into poisons, devoting a chapter (sometimes two) to each: chloroform, methyl (or wood) alcohol, cyanide, arsenic, mercury, carbon monoxide, radium, ethyl (or grain) alcohol, and thallium.

Mar 21 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Tampa Bay Times

But as Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum recounts in her fascinating book The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, that outcome began to change when a public-spirited chief medical examiner and a creative toxicologist teamed up to u...

Mar 06 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

PopMatters

Exactly how much the public knew about toxins – enough to purposely poison their wealthy spouses, but somehow not enough to prevent accidental deaths caused by rat fumigation – isn’t really evident, but Blum dances near enough the answer that one is left with a sense of profound gratitude for hav...

May 16 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Bookmarks Magazine

Elyssa East Critical Summary Deborah Blum's book contains plenty of crime-drama stories for readers who are fans of CSI, and the several critics who structured their reviews around this comparison heartily recommended the book.

Feb 22 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Wired

Most of it was methyl alcohol that was distilled from industrial alcohol or “box alcohol” derived from wood, but where a bit of ethyl alcohol might give you a pleasant buzz methyl alcohol promptly knocked you on your ass.

Mar 08 2010 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Story Circle Book Reviews

You might assume after reading the front cover flap of Deborah Blum's book The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, that there are two main characters, Charles Norris, the first medically qualified chief medical examiner serving New York City, and A...

Apr 07 2011 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Open Salon

The company behind the glow in the dark dials, U.S. Radium Corporation, hired a team of Harvard scientists to investigate and the Harvard scientists concluded that the death of the Radium Girls were connected but not caused by their employment and so was launched a was launched a lawsuit that was...

Jan 24 2011 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

Mother Jones

Carbon monoxide: "I do Google alerts on poison and poisoning, and there are some days where my dose of 10 news stories about people made sick or dead are all carbon monoxide," Blum says.

Jan 10 2014 | Read Full Review of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murd...

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