The Poisoner's Handbook

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

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Equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner's Handbook is "a vicious, page-turning story that reads more like Raymond Chandler than Madame Curie"--The New York Observer A fascinating Jazz Age tale of chemistry and detection, poison and murder, The Poisoner's Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten era. In early twentieth-century New York, poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Science had no place in the Tammany Hall-controlled coroner's office, and corruption ran rampant. However, with the appointment of chief medical examiner Charles Norris in 1918, the poison game changed forever. Together with toxicologist Alexander Gettler, the duo set the justice system on fire with their trailblazing scientific detective work, triumphing over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice. In 2014, PBS's AMERICAN EXPERIENCE released a film based on The Poisoner's Handbook.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 319 pages
  • 141 x 215 x 19mm | 272g
  • Penguin USA
  • New York, NY, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 014311882X
  • 9780143118824
  • 97,227

Review quote

"The Poisoner's Handbook breathes deadly life into the Roaring Twenties."--Financial Times "The Poisoner's Handbook is an inventive history that, like arsenic, mixed into blackberry pie, goes down with ease."--The New York Times Book Review "Deborah Blum has not lost the skills of good storytelling she honed as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist." --Chicago Sun-Times "Reads like science fiction, complete with suspense, mystery and foolhardy guys in lab coats tipping test tubes of mysterious chemicals into their own mouths." -- NPR: What We're Reading "Fans of those TV forensic shows or of novels by Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs or Jefferson Bass will find plenty to satisfy their appetites here." --The Washington Post "Blum's combination of chemistry and crime fiction creates a vicious, page-turning story that reads more like Raymond Chandler than Madame Curie."--The New York Observer "The Poisoner's Handbook opens one riveting murder case after another in this chronicle of Jazz Age chemical crimes where the real-life twists and turns are as startling as anything in fiction. Deborah Blum turns us all into forensic detectives by the end of this expertly written, dramatic page-turner that will transform the way you think about the power of science to threaten and save our lives."--Matthew Pearl, author of The Technologists and The Dante Club

"With the pacing and rich characterization of a first-rate suspense novelist, Blum makes science accessible and fascinating." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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About Professor of Journalism Deborah Blum

Deborah Blum is director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, and editor of Undark magazine, ( In 1992, she won the Pulitzer Prize for a series on primate research, which she turned into a book, The Monkey Wars. Her other books include The Poisoner's Handbook, Ghost Hunters, Love at Goon Park, and Sex on the Brain. She has written for publications including The New York Times, Wired, Time, Discover, Mother Jones, The Guardian and The Boston Globe. Blum is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a lifetime associate of the National Academy of Sciences.
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Rating details

27,293 ratings
4 out of 5 stars
5 36% (9,755)
4 38% (10,365)
3 19% (5,270)
2 4% (1,227)
1 2% (676)

Our customer reviews

Truth is reality often surpasses fantasy and crimes of the "jazz age" in NY can be as enthralling as any good crime fiction book, or even better since you can research some of the main characters later on the Internet and discover a lot more horrid facts about them (or good ones depending on who you choose to research). But the best of all is learning how forensic medicine evolved and learning a lot about poisons and exactly what makes them deadly (or not). Furthermore, I also discovered that the US government chose to poison people who drank alcohol during the dry years - I'm still in shock with this discovery and I'm not even American. This is a very good book that gives you a great insight not only to poisons and how they work, but also to real-life heroes who devoted their life to learn about poisons' chemistry in order to unravel a series of previously unpunished crimes and hopefully save future lives. Very well written and extremely entertaining, I had a wonderful time reading this book and learning more
by Ines
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