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A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,206 ratings  ·  204 reviews
People are fascinated by murder. The popularity of murder mystery books, TV series, and even board games shows that there is an appetite for death, and the more unusual or macabre the method, the better. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but poisons are inherently more mysterious. How are some compounds so deadly in such tiny amounts?

Agatha Christie
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA
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Apoorva Sripathi Yes, but there are a few spoilers here and there. But it made me want to revisit the books mentioned, even those that I read recently.
Becky Tatar There are 2 books where there are spoilers, but Harkup gives you a heads up about them, telling you to turn 2 - 4 pages ahead. The spoilers are at the…moreThere are 2 books where there are spoilers, but Harkup gives you a heads up about them, telling you to turn 2 - 4 pages ahead. The spoilers are at the end of the chapter, so it's basically, go to the next chapter. Each chapter deals with one poison, and basically just one book. In one of the indexes, there is a list of the books with a list of all the ways people were murdered in each one. (less)

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In a courtroom in France a few years before the murder in question, a prosecuting lawyer who was unsuccessfully trying to prove a case of murder by morphine declared thus: ‘Henceforth, let us tell would-be poisoners … use plant poisons. Fear nothing; your crime will go unpunished. There is no corpus delecti [physical evidence], for it cannot be found.’

A is for Arsenic is one of those books that I will look forward to consulting again while I read my way through the the Agatha Christie novels. It
Jody McGrath
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was very interesting, but the science gets a little bogged down and hard to understand in parts. If you go into the book with knowledge of chemistry, there is probably no problem, but I did not. I still really enjoyed learning about how all these poisons work and real life cases with them involved. It was also neat to see how Agatha Christie utilized them in her books.
K.J. Charles
A good overview of poisons--what they are, how they work, some famous poisoning cases, and how Agatha Christie used them in her books--mostly with incredible accuracy, but she was a trained pharmacist's assistant. Well written with a fun, breezy style that helps us across some really horrifying stuff about what various substances can do to the body.
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Harkup knows her poisons *and* her Christie. (In most cases, she describes the cases without spoilers. In those cases where there are spoilers, this is clearly marked.)

Christie also knew her poisons. She was by training a pharmacist, and poison was her preferred form of literary homicide. (She confessed that she didn't like to use murder by gun, as "I know nothing of ballistics.") In most cases she was absolutely correct in her descriptions of the effects of various poisons - her most notable
aPriL does feral sometimes
‘A is for Arsenic’ is a book written in 2015 comprehensively describing all of the poisons used by the murder mystery author Agatha Christie in her books (around 72 novels). Kathryn Harkup, the author of this encyclopedic work, is a chemist, having completed a doctorate. Christie was a volunteer nurse in the World War I and passed examinations to qualify as an Apothecary’s Assistant in 1917.

There were fourteen drugs used in many of Christie’s murder mysteries, so there are fourteen chapters in
Nancy Oakes
Sep 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A is For Arsenic is most definitely a niche read, but it's a must-have for diehard Christie fans. I count myself in that category, and so does the book's author, Kathryn Harkup: she's described on the back-cover blurb as a "chemist, author and Agatha Christie fanatic." She combines all of these attributes in this book which focuses on fourteen different poisons (arsenic through Veronal -- alpha by poison) used by Christie to kill off several of her victims in her novels and short stories.

Thomas Clairmont
Jan 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
It was a very interesting and informative book about poisons and how Agatha Christie used them in her novels/short stories.
This is the perfect book for Agatha Christie fans but you don't need to have read the books to find this book very informative/interesting!
Mar 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Very interesting, especially the history of the various drugs / poisons. Annoying that "A Pocket Full of Rye" was completely skipped, though.
Brian Clegg
Sep 10, 2015 rated it liked it
As someone who writes a lot about quantum physics, where systems can be in more than one state at a time, I want to give this book a superposition of star ratings: it's a beautiful book, excellently researched and painstakingly detailed, which gets it a solid four stars, but the nature of the contents makes it more like a mini-encyclopedia, rather than something that reads well from end to end, hence the three stars.

The book has a lot of promise to hit the spot. If, like me, you are interested
Pam ☼Because Someone Must Be a Thorn☼ Tee
A IS FOR ARSENIC is probably exactly the sort of book you will be expecting after reading the book blurbs... and more.

A IS FOR ARSENIC is going to appeal to a wide audience. Fans of the mystery writer, Agatha Christie, are going to find the analysis of Christie's pharmaceutical background interesting (I had no idea), as well as how accurately she portrayed the toxins at work in her books. (She made some missteps but was extremely knowledgeable.)

Budding-Mystery authors are going to find this a
Iona Sharma
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
I found this book utterly fascinating. The author identifies several different poisons used in Agatha Christie's books and spends a chapter on each, explaining the history of the poison, the science behind it and notable murders that have been committed with it! In some ways I don't think this even needed the connection with Agatha Christie - each chapter is very interesting in its own right and the author struggles writing about each book or short story without spoiling who the murderer is! - ...more
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a well written and very informative book about poisons and how Agatha Christie used them in her novels and short stories. You don't need to have read the books to find this book interesting as it will be of interest to anyone who reads crime novels. Christie did have professional knowledge of poisons before she started writing full time so it is perhaps not surprising that the details in her books are accurate.

Each poison has a section to itself and the author relates the history of the
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I avoided picking this up for quite a while, mostly because I’m just not that interested in Agatha Christie’s work — she wrote some great mysteries, but I’m more interested in characters, and I’m not overly fond of any of hers. (Poirot and his mannerisms drive me mad, sorry.) It turns out that while this does talk a lot about Christie’s work, it also relates her ideas to actual chemistry — of which she’d have been aware of as an assistant in a dispensing chemist — and actual murders that she may ...more
Agatha Christie killed a lot of people in her books and her murderers often used poison to achieve their means. Christie knew what she was writing about, after all she had been a nurse during World War I., and her works have been praised for their scientific accuracy when it comes to the effects of poisons.

A is For Arsenic walks us through some of the Queen of Crimes’ most effective toxins. The chapters start with a scientific overview of the various poisons’ origins and their history before
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well-written, engaging, and interesting. More than just a catalog of poisons, the author integrates history, chemistry, and true crime, so you get a real sense of context. Each chapter has a section on the substance's physical/chemical effects (i.e., exactly how it kills you!), what medical uses it had and what superseded it, how easy it would have been to obtain back then (and now), real-life instances of use, how and where Christie uses it, how accurate her depiction is, etc. And she does it ...more
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a total Christie nerd (used to read one a week in school), I really enjoyed this study of 14 poisons that she used throughout her novels. The writer is a chemist herself and in each chapter she details the history, etymology, usage, real-life cases of murder and how accurate Christie was in her novel; for each poison. If there was such a thing as non-fictional fan fiction this is a pretty fun book to read. But of course the fun is if you have read all the novels mentioned in the book which is ...more
Nazima Nasrullah
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is well researched and well written, link between Agantha Christie's novels and real life poisoning cases added more fascination to it. Chemistry of poisons always fascinates me and this book hooked me till the very end.
Beth Cato
Sep 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you have any interest in poisons and/or Agatha Christie, do check out this new book. It's absolutely fascinating. It goes into deep detail about the history of the poisons, how they work, if there are antidotes, and how Christie used the poison and her accuracy (which tends to be quite high). A is for Arsenic is a fast read. The chapters are short, and the way that it mixes Christie's fiction with fact works very well.

I would categorize the book along with The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah
Madhulika Liddle
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Agatha Christie’s very first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, when it was finally published in 1920, was reviewed by The Pharmaceutical Journal. Kathryn Harkup, in A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie, writes: ‘This novel has the rare merit of being correctly written’, the reviewer stated. He believed the author must have had pharmaceutical training, or had called in an expert.

The reviewer had guessed right: Agatha Christie was indeed trained—and she put that training to good
Katheryn Thompson
I have wanted to read this book ever since I heard about it, since I love both Agatha Christie and non-fiction books in fields I know little about, especially such fascinating (and potentially useful!) fields as poisons.

In A is for Arsenic, Kathryn devotes a chapter to each of the fourteen poisons used by the Queen of Crime, explaining the role the poison plays in the murder mystery, background information on the poison itself, and real-life cases Agatha might have been inspired by or might even
Pauline B (Dancing Lawn)
Highly informative and entertaining, a perfect non fiction read for me (being a chemistry graduate and Christie nerd).

Harkup's writing is engaging and she explores different poisons Christie used to kill her characters, where they come from and what their impact is on our bodies, without requiring prior knowledge from the reader.
The author also demonstates Agatha's obvious technical knowledge of these substances and discusses true crimes that may or may not have inspired Christie's writing.

Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good read, can be a bit bogged down with facts in places but well structured in its approach to the original stories.
Cleopatra  Pullen
This book was an absolute delight to read combining my love of Agatha Christie’s novels with a wealth of information about the poisons she chose to dispose of her victims. For any of my potential dinner guests who may be wary, do not fear, the author warns us off using the poisons she carefully and concisely explains at various points throughout the book!

Any present-day poisoner wishing to use some of the methods suggested by Christie will be disappointed to discover that even these underhand
Judy Lesley
Aug 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was amazed at all the information in this book. Concentrating on the types of poisons used by Agatha Christie in her novels had to be pretty much a labor of love for British chemist Kathryn Harkup because you can tell immediately that she is also a fan of this great icon of crime fiction. The book is written from the British point of view with changes in book titles noted for the American market. I really had my doubts that this subject matter could be presented in such a way that it held my ...more
A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup is a very good read for anyonewith an interest in poisons-- whether scientifically or because you're plotting your very own Golden Age style mystery--and/or Agatha Christie. Harkup gives the reader an A through V (Arsenic through Veronal) look at the poisons the Queen of Crime used in her stories. Each chapter features a new poison with a historical look at its development/discovery, actual murders committed using the poison, and ...more
Jun 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
From Netgalley for a Review:

I absolutely loved this book, but I had a strong suspicion that I would because I have an (almost) life-long fascination with toxicology. All of it fascinates me, from the way it affects the body, to the history, to the chemistry, to the way it is used in medicine, all of it! Though I do admit to my 'area of study' to mostly be focused on plant based poisons because it was gardening and foraging that led me to learning about poisons in the first place.

Even though I
Charissa Wilkinson
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads Program for the purpose of a fair review.

Overview: Fans of Agatha Christi can rejoice. The Queen of Mystery seems to have had a favorite way to dispose of her victims, and that was poison. So how close was Ms. Christi to the actual effects of poison? Well, considering that she was a pharmacist, or at least that’s how her job during that time was described, she seems to have had a good way to research the situations.

Likes: This book
T.A. Henry
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Harkup takes 14 poisons A.C. uses and breaks it all down. How the poison actually works, who discovered it and by what process, known antidotes and when they became available, what A.C. would have known at the time she was writing, real cases of murder by the poison that may have influenced A.C. and cases clearly influenced by A.C.

Scientific geek combined with total love for Agatha Christie. sigh. I was in heaven.

I will share one bit. There are a number of verified cases where a person reading A
(Sort of) for my birthday, so thought I'd read it finally. :) <3

This was a really interesting book. It's perfect if you like Agatha Christie and/or are interested in true crime/murder. I've been reading Agatha Christie or watching adaptations for about as long as I can remember, so plus one from me. I've been interested in forensics and poison and murder and detective stories since elementary or middle school when I took a forensics summer class and we learned about how different things
Oct 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book made my nerdy heart happy. Harkup is a scientist and does an excellent job of explaining the minute workings of the different poisons. For each poison, she gives a history, shares real life poisoning cases, and then explains how Christie used the poison in her stories. She is very carefulow to not give away any plot spoilers and if she does, she gives you ample warning. I also loved how she wove in little pop-science facts like how Cyanide is used in making Cyanotypes. Or how "going ...more
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Science and Inquiry: July 2017 - A is for Arsenic 23 89 Jul 30, 2017 12:44AM  

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Kathryn Harkup is a chemist and author. Kathryn completed a PhD then a postdoc at the University of York before realising that talking, writing and demonstrating science appealed far more than spending hours slaving over a hot fume-hood. Kathryn went on to run outreach in engineering, computing, physics and maths at the University of Surrey, which involved writing talks on science and engineering ...more
“It was claimed that the Borgias spread arsenic on the entrails of a slaughtered pig, which were then left to rot. The resulting mess was gently dried to a powder which they called La Cantarella, a pale solid that was added to food or drink. If the arsenic did not claim the victim, the toxins from the rotting entrails would probably finish them off.” 2 likes
“Consequently diamorphine acts more quickly than morphine, and it is therefore far more potent. It makes you feel like a hero, so they called it heroin.” 1 likes
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