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

3.47  ·  Rating Details  ·  285 Ratings  ·  49 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 (first published July 1st 2004)
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Community Reviews

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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.
Feb 04, 2013 Theresa rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
James Oden
Apr 26, 2015 James Oden rated it liked it
Shelves: history, science
Not sure exactly when I read this book but I found it on my shelves recently and remembered it was a fun read. However the most interesting part of the book was the looks I got while reading it in public.
Aug 03, 2016 Fishface rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, history
This was kind of a slog at times, between the author's detours into chemical formulae that mean nothing to me and the itty-bitty, pale-gray typeface. It was worth it because of the interesting stories about every kind of poison. The author even reframes many infections as poisonous, even as he does the more conventional thing by pointing out that in the right dose, even mercury and arsenic are medicinal rather than deadly. The book takes you all over the world -- Africa, China, Lapland -- and re ...more
M. A. P.
This book wasn't quite what I expected it to be after I had read its summary. The back cover blurb gave the impression I'd be learning the physiological consequences of different types of poisons, how the poison need to get into your system to be fatal or potentionally so (as some poisons will kill only if injected, while oral consumption would do you no disservice whatsoever), and, indeed, how these poisons could be detected.

In the end, Macinnis seemed to be more into providing a general overvi
Nov 07, 2013 Ryan rated it liked it
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.
Blair Stackhouse
Aug 02, 2015 Blair Stackhouse rated it liked it
Poisons seemed to suffer from an identity crisis - is it a scientific book about poisons or is it about people who have used poison? I'm still not sure. The beginning of the book had stories about famous poisoners throughout history, but the second half was about the use of poison in a more overall sense and what the chemical structures were. Peter tells a good story, but I wish he had chosen a path and stuck with it.

The book also had a structuring issue. The book was split between being broken
Verity Brown

This is one of those books that's entertaining enough while you're reading it, but ultimately is just kind of "meh."

The narrative is rambling; it's kind of like listening to an elderly professor go on about his favorite subject. Some interesting tidbits come up, but in terms of actually learning much, the reader is left to assemble those tidbits into anything very meaningful. The book can't seem to decide if it wants to be about Amusing Cases of Poisoning or The Science of Detecting Poisons or H
Aug 11, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book on poisons. I read it for several reasons, one being that I teach microbiology, and often talk about bacterial and viral poisons, and I wanted more background. Unfortunately, like other reviewers have remarked, the book was not as consistent as it should have been. Lots of diverse stories, but they were all over the place...not in some type of logical order. This would have been a problem that a good publisher/editor could have corrected. The information and stories given cap ...more
Anna Zollinger
Nov 02, 2015 Anna Zollinger rated it it was amazing
Shelves: herbalism, recommend
I am truly unsure of what I expected when I picked this book out at the library. The cover was nice, the title was catchy, and something screamed to grab it and run like the wind. Needless to say I am very, very, very glad that I did!

The subject matter itself is extremely intriguing and covers such a broad swath of subjects relating to various poisonous substances. The greatest glory of this book, however, is how astonishingly informative and well written to its very core without being dry or bo
Jan 18, 2009 Jadewik rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, research, i-own
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
Jan 10, 2009 Brendan rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2009, science
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
Allyson Dyar
Feb 11, 2016 Allyson Dyar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I’ve always been interested in the poisons (and before you start accusing me of anything, I’m not planning to do anyone in) and I thought that this book would satisfy most of my curiosity. Besides, the e-book was on sale. :-)

I had expected to enjoy this book more than I did. There was nothing wrong with the writing nor was there any problem with the history of poisoning. Author Peter Macinnis does a fine job of giving a complete background of poisons (intentional and accidental) throughout histo
Puri Kencana Putri
Mar 28, 2014 Puri Kencana Putri rated it really liked it
“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.”
Paris Pierce
Jan 15, 2015 Paris Pierce rated it did not like it
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.
May 13, 2016 Lisa rated it liked it
Shelves: science-nature
Pulled the 600's for our last book group library challenge, and I found this. Written with a great sense of humor, and chock full of interesting historical and, of course, chemical facts. I enjoyed this very much!
Sep 10, 2015 Anna rated it liked it
Interesting and informative, but lots of facts thrown at you in a narrative that is sometimes hard to follow. Also, the asides in a different color are a bit distracting.
Mar 09, 2016 Carol rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Jumping Through History

An incomplete book due to the author who tends to jump from one subjectto another never completely finishing his commentary. It's frustrating to read and be told either there will be more about it later in the book or that's another subject. It's like playing monopoly without a third of the streets.
Shawn Dvorak
Jul 28, 2015 Shawn Dvorak rated it liked it
Chock full of interesting facts, this book was a bit hard to digest since it covered so much ground, without a lot of cohesion at times.
This was a great book! I did get kind of bored when it got into history of people poisoning each other, but when it got back to poisoning and poisons in general, it was very enlightening. I particularly liked the concept that the black plague may, in fact, not have been the bubonic plague, but it may in fact have been due to a poison from rye plants! Always intriguing to learn about more to research!
James Lee
Feb 26, 2016 James Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The subject matter of the book was broader and more informative than I expected. Interesting reading. Excellent historical stories and context.
Mary E
Feb 15, 2016 Mary E rated it liked it
Interesting stories of poisons, their origins and their use in famous murders over the years.
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
Jun 07, 2013 Lisa rated it it was ok
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
Jenny Tang
Mar 09, 2016 Jenny Tang rated it really liked it
Very nice overview of different types of poisons. I think this book would be really suitable for readers looking for something both entertaining and educational. The author doesn't go very in depth but the knowledge he provides should be pretty much all you need to know if you are not planning on becoming an expert.
Kristi Thielen
Oct 27, 2011 Kristi Thielen rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 15, 2008 Dave rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 15, 2013 Colleen rated it liked it
Shelves: science-nature
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
Oct 23, 2009 John rated it it was ok
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
May 03, 2014 Stephanie Erb rated it really liked it
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.
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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.

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“There is a remarkably distinctive smell emitted by fearful bureaucrats. It is acrid, rank, and seems to cling to the clothing and the hair. Acting like a pheromone, it drives senior management to form small defensive herds from which to scream homicidally at middle management that they must not tell junior staff who can fix the problem what is going on because everything, including what has just been reported on the radio, is secret.” 0 likes
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