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Poisons: From Hemlock to Botox to the Killer Bean of Calabar
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Poisons: From Hemlock to Botox to the Killer Bean of Calabar

3.5 of 5 stars 3.50  ·  rating details  ·  177 ratings  ·  31 reviews
In the tradition of Salt and Stiff, a wide-ranging and provocative look-teeming with little-known facts and engaging stories-at a subject of the direst interest. Poisons permeate our world. They are in the environment, the workplace, the home. They are in food, our favorite whiskey, medicine, well water. They have been used to cure disease as well as to incapacitate and ki ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 12th 2005 by Arcade Publishing
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Peter Macinnis
Mar 27, 2008 Peter Macinnis added it  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
I wrote it, so I shall remain neutral.
I'm in Chapter 7-8 so far... the information within the book is interesting, but it reads a little like a textbook. Granted, the brief stories in the chapter on poisoners are interesting. I did get a little giddy when I read the origins of the line "Dr. Livingston, I presume".

So far, it's not half-bad-- you cannot read it expecting a "story book" as its purpose seems to be more of one for gathering information in a single location than telling stories of the great po
Poisons was an enjoyable read, though not as zesty or engaging as Simon Winchester’s histories tend to be. Organization had a lot to do with it. Macinnis organizes the book by kind of poisoning, rather than using a couple interesting anecdotes to frame the stories. While there are certainly interesting tidbits, this division makes the book feel a bit more dry than I was looking for. That said:

* I was happy to see a discussion, once again, of Dr. Crippen. That guy shows up everywhere.
* Hemlock
Puri Kencana Putri
“Poisoner do their deadly work in the secret. The evidence in poisoning cases is nearly always circumstantial. In this case it is more direct than usual. You must remember that poisoning is always concealed and deliberate. It is crime that is not done in a moment of passion, or on an impulse. It is crime that must be planned.”
The Half-Priced bookstore guy had promised that this book was "really great" and I listened to him. Fortunately, I only paid $4.99 for it, so I wasn't too disappointed when, after finishing it, I found I had learned not much more than I knew before starting it -- namely, that things like cyanide, arsenic, hemlock, lead, mercury, pesticides, nicotine, -- if consumed in sufficient quantities -- will kill you. I was hoping to learn exactly HOW it is (physiologically speaking) that various poisons k ...more
Paris Pierce
Filled with random fascinating facts but none of the facts were really expanded upon and the book was way to technical throughout. It could have been a lot better. Sorry, skip this one unless you already are a chemist.
A lively book on a deadly subject. The author's style reminds me of Mary Roach in her book Stiff; it's dense with facts and clearly well-researched, but keeps a breezy tone. Macinnis writes about famous poisoners and about the history of poisons in nature, in medicine, in food, in crime, in war, and in the workplace, documenting the roles poison has played in life and often the biochemical mechanisms by which various toxins work.
Recommended without reservation for general readers and for fiction
I am really not sure I can finish this because, while it has some really good information in it, it is REALLY poorly written. Like, it's unreadably bad. It's full of run-on sentences and non sequitors and just horrible syntax. Also, it's lurid and sickeningly fascinated with murderers and serial killers. I have no interest in psychopaths and serial killers. I thought it would focus more on science and less on lurid details. I'm surprised that this guy has published so many books. He's a really t ...more
Anna Beylenn
I don't know what I expected picking up this book, but it wasn't what I was expecting. But it was still so wonderful!

Very informative, very well written, and extremely intriguing. I would highly recommend this for anyone who is interested in the historical side of Poisons of many formats and who is interested in a few new ideas and philosophies concerning it( I know the reasoning behind the phrase "We are poison's children" gave me some interesting ideas and made me think about things in a new w
Kristi Thielen
Fascinating account of poisons through history told in a voice that's as distinctive as the subject matter. It's interesting to hear how ergot could possibly be the REAL cause of the Black Death, witch burnings and even the breakup of the Holy Roman Empire. Famous poisoning cases of history are also told in rollicking fashion and Macinnis even makes a case for the fact that Napoleon was, indeed, done in by poision - but in an unintentional fashion - by the wallpaper in his room.
I found this book to be interesting, though the content was not quite what I expected after reading a summary about it. It covers the lengthy history of poisons and how they've been used, but the book never really delved into the more in-depth information relating to how they act on the body. Basically, I was hoping for a more scientific perspective of poisons rather than a historical record of their use. It was still an interesting read though.
Not the greatest writing and the topic was way too broad for a single small book. This was more of a haphazard, selective history of poisons (and poisoners). Some bits were, I think kind of pointless--like the section dealing with the possibility that Napoleon had been poisoned. Apparently, Napoleon had some symptoms of poisoning--and also not. Okay...
Made me wonder if the writer was just trying to bulk up the word count or something.
Not what I was expecting. Usually poison books concentrate on Famous cases, but this covered all aspects- poisons in workplace, in warfare, food poisoning, natures poisoners.
The coverage was cursory and there was a certain amount of editorializing going on ( i'm totally with him in being upset about global warming, but it interrupts the flow of the narrative)
Still , all in all, a nice introduction to the topic
The book had some interesting observations, but was hard to keep reading. Why does an author talk about something, then add, "We'll learn more about that in a later chapter." That just wastes time, and only seems to get to a required page-count more than anything else. Read this one when you don't have anything else in front of you.
Stephanie Erb
I enjoyed it. As I commented earlier, it is not a book to read at meal time, and some of the science was beyond me.
Apr 25, 2008 Debra rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: mystery lovers
Shelves: nonfiction, science
Peter Macinnis' book Poisons is an intriguing overview of poisons and their use through the years. Written in a conversational style, this unusual mix of historical and scientific writing is worth reading for anyone who likes mysteries or science.
An interesting historical account of poisons from all over the globe, and the tragic effects suffered by those who met their fates therein. Lots of interesting toxicology information on how the human body processes poisonous substances.
The book was as if someone took each sentence, cut it out of a piece of paper then played a game of 52 pick-up to put it back together again. I would be remiss to pretend I could make it through to the end.
Sarah Trabert
Interesting tidbits but the writing is not great. The author tends to jump from story to story with few transitions and multiple tales repeat the same points.
Bah! Pretty crazy stuff. Great for people who are science geeks like myself. Or if you happened to like subjects that have to do with Jack the Ripper...
Got to love these historical biographies...lots of information about the poisons you've grown to know and love, and the people who used them.
I love what he does with words and when he tackles a subject you know you've got the whole story. Funny and informative.
confusing - not well organized. gets lost in details and compromises narrative flow & clarity of information.
Dec 19, 2009 Lisa marked it as to-read
Poisons: From Hemlock to Botox to the Killer Bean of Calabar by Peter Macinnis (2005)
You know the song "We didn't start the fire"? This is a lot like this but with poisons.
Jul 16, 2012 Kristen marked it as didnt-finish
Shelves: non-fiction
Nothing against the book; I just lost interest in the topic.
T. Strange
Some good turns of phrase. Not terribly readable. Very shallow.
Dec 30, 2008 Amanda is currently reading it

I need to know what my character died of.
Boring, unorganized, and crap writing
Uses, abuses and very enlightening.
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Happy grandfather, travels, writes for adults and youngsters, mainly history or science. Published by the National Library of Australia (Australian Backyard Naturalist May 2012, another book Curious Minds October, 2012, Big Book of Australian History, 2013). Talks on ABC (RN), translated into 7 other languages. Winner of the W.A. Premier's Prize for Children's Literature 2013 and other awards.

More about Peter Macinnis...
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