King of Poisons: A History of Arsenic

Overview

For centuries arsenic’s image as a poison has been inextricably tied to images of foul play. In King of Poisons, John Parascandola examines the surprising history of this deadly element.

From Gustave Flaubert to Dorothy Sayers, arsenic has long held a place in the literary realm as an instrument of murder and suicide. It was delightfully used as a source of comedy in the famous play Arsenic and Old Lace. But as Parascandola shows, arsenic has had a number of surprising ...

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Overview

For centuries arsenic’s image as a poison has been inextricably tied to images of foul play. In King of Poisons, John Parascandola examines the surprising history of this deadly element.

From Gustave Flaubert to Dorothy Sayers, arsenic has long held a place in the literary realm as an instrument of murder and suicide. It was delightfully used as a source of comedy in the famous play Arsenic and Old Lace. But as Parascandola shows, arsenic has had a number of surprising real-world applications. It was frequently found in such common items as wallpaper, paint, cosmetics, and even candy, and its use in medical treatments was widespread. American ambassador Clare Boothe Luce suffered from exposure to arsenical paint in her study, and Napoleon’s death has long been speculated to be the result of accidental or intentional poisoning.

But arsenic poisoning is still a public menace. In the neighborhood around American University in Washington, D.C., the army has undertaken a massive cleanup of artillery shells and bottles containing chemical warfare agents such as arsenical lewisite after a number of workmen and residents became ill. Arsenic contamination of the water supply in Bangladesh and in West Bengal, India, is a major public health problem today. From murder to crime fiction, from industrial toxin to chemical warfare, arsenic remains a powerful force in modern life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“John Parascandola has taken us on a fascinating and illuminating journey about the historical paradox of arsenic in life, health, and death.”—Richard Carmona, MD, MPH, FACS, former surgeon general of the United States

“There’s no poison with a longer, darker, more fascinating history than arsenic. And in his book King of Poisons, John Parascandola tells its story in compelling detail, from famous murders to chemical warfare. The result is an addictively readable look at one of the important—and definitely one of the most dangerous—elements on Earth.”—Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

“The author has done a wonderful job of presenting to the readers an easily readable and well-researched discussion of this elemental weapon of murder. Throughout history arsenic has not only been the number-one substance used in criminal poisoning, but is the first substance that comes to their minds of most people when they hear ‘murder by poison.’”—John H. Trestrail III, director, Center for the Study of Criminal Poisoning

“From murder in fact and fiction to modern medicine—by way of taxidermy, food, wallpaper, drinking water, toxic wood, and much else besides—this wide-ranging, well-researched, and engagingly written book offers a fascinating overview of the social impact of arsenic, the perennially useful but always dangerous ‘king of poisons.’ There is something here for everyone —historians, scientists, and those who just want a good read. Highly recommended.”—Katherine Watson, author of Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and Their Victims and Forensic Medicine in Western Society: A History

"[King of Poisons] offers a comprehensive historical review of arsenic poisoning both intentional and accidental, one that is based on thorough research and given an engaging presentation."—James Whorton, Pharmacy in History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597977036
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/2012
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,391,876
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

John Parascandola received his PhD in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and later served as the chief of the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine and as the Public Health Service historian. The author of The Development of American Pharmacology (1992) and Sex, Sin, and Science: A History of Syphilis in America (2008), he is currently a historical consultant and teaches courses in the history of modern biology and of poisons at the University of Maryland. He lives in Rockville, Maryland.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 King of Poisons: Arsenic and Murder 5

2 Poison in the Plot: Arsenic in Fiction 53

3 Hazards on the Job: Arsenic in the Workplace 83

4 The Ubiquitous Element: Arsenic in the Environment 109

5 What Kills Can Cure: Arsenic in Medicine 145

Suggested Further Readings 173

Notes 175

Index 193

About the Author 199

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