Deborah Blum wrote an outstanding book. It is combination science text, biography and history. I laughed. I gasped. I was outraged. I was saddened. This is a very good book. Note: If you saw the PBS American Experience espisode that premiered on January 7, 2014 you saw the book. It was very well done.
This book is a fascinating tour through a number of murder cases and investigations in New York between 1890 and 1930, touching on social history, chemistry, and evolution of criminology and forensic science. The story is as much about the struggle of the NYC coroner to establish the reputation of his dept. after a series of inept Tammany Hall political appointees bungled their ways through various poisoning cases, as about the development of the science of detecting whether someone's been poisoned or died of natural causes. It's a great listen-interesting material and anecdotes, well-told, that point a vivid picture of life during the Industrial Age, when foods, over-the-counter medicines, furnishings, clothing, and workplaces were commonly laced with poisons like arsenic, lead and mercury, and when hundreds of people a year died of accidental poisonings before the Pur Food and Drug Act and various occupational safety laws came into effect. I highly recommend this book.
Listening to this was like listening to a mystery novel. It was fast-paced, and explained the biology of various poisons in a way that was targeted to the general reader/listener. The descriptions of the people involved - from the scientists to the politicians to the police to the criminals - were also very vivid. The only complaint I have is that the name of the institution in Baltimore is Johns Hopkins (yes, Johns) not John Hopkins.
DEBORAH BLUM is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and the author of five books, including The Poisoner's Handbook. She writes about environmental chemistry for The New York Times at Poison Pen and is a blogger for Wired at Elemental.