Jane's Reviews > The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum
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really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction

Where I got the book: purchased at Borders ALAS POOR BORDERS.

This short (278 pages of text) nonfic covers the development of forensic toxicology in New York from 1915 to 1936 (with a little look before and after) against the background of Prohibition, which led to an epidemic of self-poisoning as people drank, seriously, ANYTHING because they couldn't get regular alcohol. I had no idea it was that bad, or that Prohibition had done quite such a splendid job of turning moderate tipplers into binge-drinking maniacs. Says a lot for human nature.

Interestingly, each chapter focuses on a specific poison, although the Prohibition theme is relentlessly hung on every hook the author can find so things go a bit off-topic at times in an engagingly rambling sort of way. Lots of anecdotes of real crime, a little bit of science and a few brisk character sketches add up to an entertaining read. Although I suspect this is not the best book on poisoning out there, it's worth reading for a little inspiration.

NO, not inspiration to poison people. Honestly. *Rolls eyes.* I'm talking about inspiration for stories. Talk about truth being stranger than fiction. As for the writing, I'd class it as highly competent journalistic prose but not exciting per se. Still good enough to merit 4 stars and to whet my appetite for more murder.
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Reading Progress

July 31, 2012 – Started Reading
July 31, 2012 – Shelved
July 31, 2012 –
0.0% "A book of stories about real-life poisonings...just what I needed. A real shot in the arm. The antidote to boredom. A fresh draught of entertainment. OK, I'm out of puns - anyone else got some?"
August 1, 2012 –
page 131
41.07% "Somewhere back a bit I learned that the same guy who introduced lead into gasoline was responsible for inventing the chlorofluorocarbon freon. I hope he's in a very warm place, and I don't mean Florida."
August 2, 2012 – Finished Reading
August 3, 2012 – Shelved as: nonfiction

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I've toyed with reading this one on and off - and your review describes almost exactly what I expect from the book, so the marketing must be accurate, at least.


Melki My real-life book club chose this for next February's read - just in time for Valentine's Day. I'm the host, and I'm having such fun dreaming up snacks to serve. "Death-by-Cyanide", I mean Chocolate will certainly be on the menu.


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