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

de Deborah Blum

Outros autores: Veja a seção outros autores.

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2,3321306,799 (4.07)128
History. Medical. Nonfiction. Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner's Handbook, Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner's Handbook-chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler-investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey's Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle, and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can't always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler's experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed "America's Lucretia Borgia" to continue her nefarious work. From the vantage of Norris and Gettler's laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren't the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide, while potent compounds such as morphine can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist's war between bootleggers and government chemists, while in Gotham's crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner's Handbook is a compelling account of a forgotten New York.… (mais)
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  7. 00
    A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Substances and the Killers Who Used Them de Neil Bradbury Ph.D. (JenniferRobb)
    JenniferRobb: Both books discuss poisons but from different points of view. Blum's delves into early forensic medicine moreso than Bradbury's book does and Bradbury's book delves into the mechanisms of how the poisons work moreso than Blum's.
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Mostrando 1-5 de 130 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
this was such an interesting look at how forensic medicine and toxicology got its start and was pioneered by charles norris and alexander gettler (names that really should be well known for their work) in new york. blum wove the history (mostly about the prohibition years) with police cases of the day that showed both how murderers used the poisons to kill their victims, and also how the medical examiner and the forensic chemists used science to solve what happened. these men advanced science so far and did incredible work with little resources. i was mostly struck by how their work was done with little fanfare, for the love of knowledge and advancement of the science, how many poor animals were killed to learn all that they were studying, and how dangerous the years of prohibition were.

i didn't know that it was a failed experiment from the get-go but that it lasted 13 years, or that the gov't itself made the dangerous alcohol replacements even more dangerous in order to try to keep people from drinking (even though it only increased the number of people dying from imbibing). i was also struck by how long and painful a death by cyanide is since from movies i was under the impression that it was near instantaneous. (it's not long but maybe 15-45 min, but is brutal).

overall this was a fast pace read of history that she kept interesting with all kinds of police cases and murders, but also chock full of chemistry info and science. really well done. ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Jun 16, 2024 |
Fascinating look at the pioneers of forensic medicine ( )
  corliss12000 | Mar 16, 2024 |
really enjoyed this. The information about the poisoners didn't shock me as much as learning what the government and companies concerned acceptable practice back then ( )
  cspiwak | Mar 6, 2024 |
RATING: 3.5
“The Poisoner’s Handbook” is somehow both deeply interesting and detailed yet also strangely repetitive and too detailed. So I really did enjoy reading this (part on audiobook and part in print); the early years of forensic science and poison exploration seem downright WILD at times. I was fascinated by the various stories of killers, government agents, and scientists and all the ways they worked to achieve their ends, both good and evil. I also really like how Blum told these real life stories with a fictional voice, narrating like it was a murder mystery.

On the downside, each chapter (focusing on a different poison) felt like they had the same format. At times, I thought I had accidentally rewound the book because something sounded familiar. There are also times when the topic becomes focused on law, legislation, and government topics; I understand the need to include some of it but honestly parts of it were SO DRY and I don’t think added very much.

All in all, I have a deeper appreciation for forensic science now, and a couple of the stories Blum told have stuck in my head. ( )
  deborahee | Feb 23, 2024 |
This book includes some really heroic tales of the lives of scientists and municipal employees. ( )
  MylesKesten | Jan 23, 2024 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 130 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
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Nome do autorFunçãoTipo de autorObra?Status
Deborah Blumautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculado
Marlo, ColeenNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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To the Haugen family- Dave, Helen, Peter (always), Treaka- and in loving memory of Pamela.
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Until the early nineteenth century few tools existed to detect a toxic substance in a corpse.
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Prohibition is a joke. It has deprived the poor working man of his beer and it has flooded the country with rat poison. - Brooklyn magistrate
The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol. It knows what the bootleggers are doing with it and yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States Government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible. - Charles Norris
Only one possessing the instincts of a wild beast would desire to kill or make blind the man who takes a drink of liquor, even if he purchased it from one violating the Prohibition statues.
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History. Medical. Nonfiction. Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner's Handbook, Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner's Handbook-chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler-investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey's Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle, and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can't always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler's experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed "America's Lucretia Borgia" to continue her nefarious work. From the vantage of Norris and Gettler's laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren't the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide, while potent compounds such as morphine can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist's war between bootleggers and government chemists, while in Gotham's crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner's Handbook is a compelling account of a forgotten New York.

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