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

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

by Deborah Blum
4.3 75


View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Get it by Wednesday, October 25 ,  Order by 12:00 PM Eastern and choose Expedited Delivery during checkout.


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

Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum follows New York City's first forensic scientists to discover a fascinating Jazz Age story of chemistry and detection, poison and murder.

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; 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 page-turning account of a forgotten New York.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594202438
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/18/2010
Pages: 319
Product dimensions: 6.52(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.05(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Blum is a professor of science journalism at the University of Wisconsin. She worked as a newspaper science writer for twenty years, winning the Pulitzer in 1992 for her writing about primate research, which she turned into a book, The Monkey Wars (Oxford, 1994). Her other books include Sex on the Brain (Viking, 1997) and Love at Goon Park (Perseus, 2002). She has written about scientific research for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Discover, Health, Psychology Today, and Mother Jones. She is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers and now serves on an advisory board to the World Federation of Science Journalists and the National Academy of Sciences.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 75 reviews.
thesoundofherwings More than 1 year ago
I'm a biology major who is wanting to work in the field of forensics, and I'm a bit of a history buff, too. So, this book was right up my alley. It was informative without being dry. People unfamiliar with chemistry should have no problem understanding it, but some of the descriptions of the chemistry of the poisons might get tedious. I found the case studies and personal anecdotes very interesting. If you enjoyed Mary Roach's "Stiff", you will probably enjoy this one as well.
JcDean More than 1 year ago
I've already bought this book for myself, and after starting it, I could not put it down! It was so fascinating, I ended up buying two more copies for friends, and they also found it equally fascinating. Nonfiction that reads like fiction. I will keep my eye out for future Deborah Blum books!
Ludwigvan1952 More than 1 year ago
To all the fans of CSI, NCIS, etc., read this book! If you want to see what forensic criminology was like "back in the day" you could not choose a better book. The history of this subject is largely ignored by the popular press and it is fascinating (if a bit stomach-churning on occasion). I finished it in 3 days! And it left me wanting more, more information, more stories. The author did her subject proud.
dpoo More than 1 year ago
People will ask why are you reading a poisons book, but this book is an interesting history of forensic science. I really didn't know what to expect, but it kept me reading like any good murder mystery book does. I think anyone who enjoys all the CSI type shows would like this book so they can understand how the science of identifying poisons started with detailed accounts of cases & methods.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent. Non fiction book that reads like fiction. I found it hard to put down once I started reading it. The beginnings of forensics and the chaos of New York in the 1920"s. Great book for fans of CSI and similar shows also good for mystery fans who like science in their mysteries, I think. I finished it and turned right around and read it again. Only four stars because i would have liked it to be longer. I didn't find the chemistry overwhelming as did one other reviewer and i am no chemist, believe me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story is based in New York City in the early 1900's. It was the time of prohibition, and the beginning of what you could call a medical revolution. Mercury, cyanide, chloroform, wood alcohol, and more, stocked doctors' offices, homes, and pharmacies. With the beginning of Prohibition, each cocktail drank added to a game of chance. . The people of New York City knew something had to change, so pathologist Charles Norris was hired. Norris along with with chemist Alexander Gettler, founded the city's first toxicology laboratory. The main story though, starts before Gettler and Norris. It starts when an unlikely killer springs up and bares its nasty fangs. . This story is very believable and exciting. For people who enjoy television shows like CSI or NCIS, this book gives you a perfect combination of chemistry and forensics. . Norris, Gettler, and other characters in the story are all believable. I want to know why Charles Norris chose to become a pathologist, and why he wanted Gettler so badly on his team. . The science content is very accurate. I wouldn't necessarily want to learn more about the poisons, but I would be interested in learning more about the pathology and medical side to the story. . In my opinion, this book is for somebody who is interested in chemistry more than anything. It was an ok book, but probably not one I would choose to re-read. .
LAT72 More than 1 year ago
Now I know just enough about poisons to be dangerous, I definitely want to learn more. Blum has put together a well-researched and interesting look at Jazz Age New York....from an unexpected angle.
Nigai More than 1 year ago
Authoratative and exceptionally well written? Ms Blum makes the 1920's come alive. She gives historians an excellent background as to why the 18th amendment failed and the government's ghastly hand in poisoning those people who just had to drink. Despite the politics of the time, she also brings to hand the hard work of Doctors Norris and Gettler. The state of forensic pathology is still catching up to Europe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'd been wanting to get this book for a while, and finally did. It's a great read - an interesting history book, with science tied in, and pretty easy and entertaining as well. I'm almost done with it, and will be sad when it's over. I would definitely recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Blum shows perfectly balanced writing skills by blending intricate science details with engaging storytellling. The amount of research is impressive. While reading "Handbook" a second time I kept imagining who I would want to see play these characters in a movie. The story of these forensic pioneers should be known to everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book in two days, it was such a page-turner! I loved how the author managed to evoke the creepy and sinister atmosphere around the times, places, and people she wrote about. I also have a new respect for early forensic pioneers. A deft mix of history, science, and criminal mysrery with a dash of the deliciously ghoulish.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank God for forensic science! This book was fascinating how it recounts the very beginnings of forensic science. It's amazing how far we've come in one hundred years in discovering dangerous poisons and solving murders. Truly interesting!
Jude_Elizabeth More than 1 year ago
A long-time interest in forensics and a great title got me to pick up this book - I was not disappointed. The wonderful science details are accurate without being "too science-y" and there are true stories to show how valuable forensics can be in criminal cases. This book is never boring and, in an era where there is a CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and similar shows all over our television, this book gives every reader a new appreciation for what the early pioneers went through to get this valuable science recognized. Excellent book - highly recommended to those interested in forensics, the 20s & 30s, and/or the interesting lengths criminals will go to get away with murder.
SuperDuperSarah More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be interesting and very well written. The organization of the book was wonderful and made it an easy read. Chapters are laid out by poison and follow a timeline, solving the problem that many nonfiction accounts have of a wandering timeline. The author creates a vivid history and captures the scenery of Prohibition Era New York. The author also does an excellent job of describing chemical reaction in a simple, easy to follow jargon that would not be intimidating to someone unfamiliar with chemistry. I was not able to put this book down. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys interesting in-depth looks at off beat topics. Fans of Mary Roach would certainly enjoy this book as well as those who enjoy True Crime.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it! I love reading non-fiction and learning new things. I learned a great deal from this book. At times, the science talk was a little too much but over all it was easy to understand and I couldn't put it down! I just wish it had pictures!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be riveting; it explains the history of different poisons. Far from being macabe, as it may first sound, it is a history lesson of how poisons came into use and how forensic medicine began to detect these substances.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book fascinating! The detailed historical times, events, politics and individuals involved made this a captivating book. My mom told me that my grandfather had developed a drinking problem during Prohibition, but that never really made sense to me until I read book. That happened to many people. The lack of credible products & information back then was appalling. Drs. Norris & Gettler are true "heroes" in shaping our national health protections and crime detection! If you like history, mystery, crime detection, forensics, or anecdotes, you'll enjoy this book. I highly recommend it!