Heidi'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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's review
Feb 17, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: history, nonfiction, politics, science
Read in April, 2011

It's like this book was written just for me, to combine most of my favorite non-fiction topics -- science, history, political and social issues, true crime -- into one fascinating and entertaining read. The book is about the development of forensic medicine and science during the 1920s in New York City, but there are so many facets to the process: the chemistry behind newly-discovered elements and compounds, the science of how those chemicals act in the human body, the lack of government regulations on how those substances were produced or used, the backdrop of the Prohibition era which led to so much experimentation with various chemicals, the clever (or not-so-clever) murders committed with many of these new compounds, the hard-working men who pioneered the scientific techniques for identifying and working with new chemicals... I could go on. I have gone on about this book, at great length, to multiple people who were probably just politely humoring me. This book really brought out my inner science and history geek tendencies.

I found every page of this book just fascinating, and read much of the book aloud to my husband because I was so excited to share some cool new facts or stories I'd just learned, or express my dismay and amazement at what life could be like in such a young industrialized society. A note on the science: I had a hard time with chemistry in school, never found it very easy or interesting, and until reading this book would have called it my least favorite area of science. But the chemistry presented in this book is written in such an accessible way that I may be forced to change my opinion on the subject. Really excellent book.

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