Tuesday, May 11, 2010

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

I really don't read a lot of non-fiction, but this book looked intriguing enough I decided to give it a try.

This book is more about the first medical examiner, Dr. Charles Norris, in New York City to actually hold a medical degree, and the first toxicologist, Alexander Gettler. Each chapter is about a different poison and how the two working together figured out what effects the poison had on the body and in what levels. Before their time, forensic science was not considered to be reliable or even usable in a court of law--Norris and Gettler changed all that.

This is a fascinating work about poisons, chemistry, science, and how it has changed and shaped our lives. I learned so much from this book about Prohibition and the people who died of wood alcohol, the women who died from radiation poisoning and taught us that radium was not beneficial. There is a lot of chemistry and science in the book, which is hard to get through, but the story woven through the pages makes it all worth it. I enjoyed each chapter focusing on a different poison and how Gettler and Norris worked to get forensic science into the 20th century.

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