Book Review: “Poisoner’s Handbook”

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, Deborah Blum
originally published: January 2011
finished reading: 28 December 2011

I almost gave up reading this book halfway through the first chapter. I’m intrigued by any book using science to figure out how people died, but the first chapter was full of the politics of how the medical examiner’s office came into being. I kept thinking it would get better (and I was right) but I almost missed it.

I think what I wanted more of were stories. I watch shows like Law and Order, because they pull the science and the work behind the scenes into every day life. I want to see how the science fits into figuring out what happened. Blum takes us through the labs in New York City, but how many times do I need to be told about grinding organs into paste and distilling them down into their components? Let’s face it, it’s more interesting to actually be doing that work than it is to be reading about it (over and over).

I learned a lot and was mostly interested throughout the book. It’s a good read for those of us curious about the science that goes on in the background. If you’re looking for in depth stories about the victims, look elsewhere.

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