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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

The Poisoner's Handbook

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York - Deborah Blum

This is a fascinating look at the birth of forensic science in the United States from 1917 through the 1930's; specifically, at the revolutionary changes brought about by two men: the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, Charles Norris, and toxicologist Alexander Gettler.  It's well-written, engrossing, and sometimes even sensational.

 

The book is divided up by chapters, each representing one of the prevailing poisons of the jazz-age era and the crimes committed with them, with an inevitable focus on the effects of prohibition.  While there are some deviations within each chapter in order to maintain a chronology in the historical narrative, each chapter focusses on breaking down a specific poison, its physiological effects and methods of detection.  Blum does this in a way that is both accessible and fascinating...and sometimes gruesome. 

 

My only complaints are purely personal:  Blum wrote a thorough, comprehensive history of these two great men, but that requires a discussion of animal experiments, something I can't tolerate even as I recognise their contributions.  I also found that the emphasis on the dangers of prohibition-era alcohols grew tedious.  There's no way to write a history of this time frame without methyl- and ethyl- alcohols dominating the history, but I still found myself growing a bit weary of reading about them towards the end.

 

What these two men accomplished in their time was phenomenal; their dedication, their perseverance is downright inspiring.  If you enjoy science and/or history, I'd recommend this book without reservation.