This book is mainly about two men Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of New York City, and Alexander Gettler, the chief toxicologist These two learned, fiercely dedicated men fought city hall and the establishment, in bringing forensic medicine into the twentieth century, and to bring respect to the profession that it deserved Basically, the book is a collection of short stories of various mysteries that these men, and the medical departments they served, helped to solve in the early This book is mainly about two men Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of New York City, and Alexander Gettler, the chief toxicologist These two learned, fiercely dedicated men fought city hall and the establishment, in bringing forensic medicine into the twentieth century, and to bring respect to the profession that it deserved Basically, the book is a collection of short stories of various mysteries that these men, and the medical departments they served, helped to solve in the early twentieth century I was most struck by two things in the book First, the depth of corruption in the city s administration under Mayor Hylan was incredible Hylan put a drunkard named Riordan into the coroner s office he had absolutely no qualifications for the office Three medical pathologists applied for the job they had passed the civil service exam for the job, which required successfully performing autopsies But the state required autopsies were not performed in a medical school, as required by law, so the doctors were arrested and charged with felonies It was also interesting how, during the Prohibition, hundreds of people died in New York City each year because they were poisoned by illegal alcohol Many different types of poisons were involved, and were required by the government to be additives to industrial alcohol, to discourage drinking Despite the wealth of grim stories, this is a fascinating book, and very well written Highly recommended Can a book be both interesting and dry Never thought so before, but here it applies well Taking place between 1915 1936, the book opens with a self confessed murderer claiming he has poisoned many The problem here is that there is no evidence to convict him, and he gets away with his crimes The problem is that there are no tests to detect poison in corpses Plus, so many poisons are do readily available, used in common household cleaners, in beauty products and in medicines.The Uber corrupt Can a book be both interesting and dry Never thought so before, but here it applies well Taking place between 1915 1936, the book opens with a self confessed murderer claiming he has poisoned many The problem here is that there is no evidence to convict him, and he gets away with his crimes The problem is that there are no tests to detect poison in corpses Plus, so many poisons are do readily available, used in common household cleaners, in beauty products and in medicines.The Uber corrupt Tammany Hall and Prohibition also are also but players during this time The book is structured like connecting stories, each featuring a poison and the nefarious uses of said poison We have a modern day Lucretia Borgia, poisoned pies, a blue man and of course bathtub gin and wood alcohol We also have the beginning of the medical examiners and pathology So many got away with so many murders But we have two heroes, Brother and Norris, the first medical and his assistant They run experiments, event tests, see what the poison does to a human body, and slowly things begin to change.So why both interesting and dry The cases were interesting, but the testing and results took of too many pages Unless you are in this field or inordinately curious, I think many will feel the same I don t know why publishers feel the need to put huge subtitles on non fiction books Take The Poisoner s Handbook, for example To me, that s a great title that would probably intrigue most potential readers But the full title is The Poisoner s Handbook Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York While accurate, it doesn t exactly roll off the tongue, does it Think about The Devil and the White City Even if you knew nothing about that book, if you saw it while trolling th I don t know why publishers feel the need to put huge subtitles on non fiction books Take The Poisoner s Handbook, for example To me, that s a great title that would probably intrigue most potential readers But the full title is The Poisoner s Handbook Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York While accurate, it doesn t exactly roll off the tongue, does it Think about The Devil and the White City Even if you knew nothing about that book, if you saw it while trolling through a bookstore, wouldn t you at least give it a look based on that title But then you see that the whole thing is actually The Devil and the White City Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America which makes you feel like you just got eye strain so you drop the book and stagger out of Barnes Noble to go get a beer The trend isn t getting any better either There s a new book out called Hellhound On His Trail That sounds cool But wait for it The whole title is Hellhound On His Trail The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr and the International Hunt for His Assassin It s like you just read the whole Wikipedia entry about James Earl Ray.Thank goodness that Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood before this trend started Because the title these days would be In Cold Blood Murder and Fear On the Kansas Plains The Two Dipshit Losers Who Killed An Innocent Family But back to The Poisoner s Handbook, as we will refer to it from now on because I am not typing all that shit out again This is a mix of science, crime, politics and history It tells the story of how two men, Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, worked tirelessly to bring scientific methods to the New York City coroner s office and laid the groundwork for much of modern forensics So I guess we can blame them for all those goddamn CSI shows.America used to be just as poison crazy as it is gun crazy, and before there were documented methods to prove the existence of poisons in a body, it was tough to get a conviction Plus, the old New York coroner s office was corrupt and incompetent so it was an uphill battle for Norris and Gettler to gain respectability There s detailed, but easy to understand, explanations of the chemical nature of the various toxins they dealt with as well as a sometimes hilarious account of the political in fighting that happened to even get a qualified coroner appointed There s also a ton of stories about how the American public was routinely poisoned by harmful products or misunderstood chemicals.One of theinteresting parts is about the work done during Prohibition Norris and Gettler considered Prohibition a lethal joke that was killing people who were drinking almost anything to get a buzz and they did a lot of research into alcohol and intoxication levels to show that people were drinkingwhen it was illegal And the fun fact that I didn t know before reading this was that the U.S government actually had companies add things to industrial alcohol to make it MORE poisonous in a vain attempt to keep bootleggers from using it And if a few thousand boozehounds went blind or died from drinking it, then they shouldn t have been breaking the law anyhow.Interesting book, but I would have liked a bithistory about Norris and Gettler and a little less of a chemistry lesson Mercury Rising One Reviewer s Feverish Reaction to Annoying Trends in Non fiction Book TitlesThrough our secret researches, we were able to discover some of the rejected titles for this book Heavy Metal Madness A Stroll Through Some of the More Insalubrious Back Alleys of the Periodic TableCSI Manhattan Murder and Retribution in the Jazz AgeWhere s Fido Estimation of the Median Lethal Dose for Some Common Neurotoxins Under Severe Budgetary ConstraintsMoonshine and Giblets Prohibition Mercury Rising One Reviewer s Feverish Reaction to Annoying Trends in Non fiction Book TitlesThrough our secret researches, we were able to discover some of the rejected titles for this book Heavy Metal Madness A Stroll Through Some of the More Insalubrious Back Alleys of the Periodic TableCSI Manhattan Murder and Retribution in the Jazz AgeWhere s Fido Estimation of the Median Lethal Dose for Some Common Neurotoxins Under Severe Budgetary ConstraintsMoonshine and Giblets Prohibition Era Recipes for Pickling Organ MeatsGod Awful Title A Pretty Decent Book About the Origins of Forensic ScienceThough Deborah Blum is a skillful and engaging writer, this book never quite soared for me A good editor might have pointed out that presenting a parade of a dozen villainous poisoners is ultimately less affecting than choosing to discuss just one or two The organization of chapters by compound is a little artificial, but works reasonably well Including some relevant photos would have greatly improved the book But these are minor quibbles this is a well researched, interesting book The material relating to Prohibition was unexpected and fascinating Despite the author s skill, this book will never match my own little project in the works At present, all I can share is the bewitching title Painted Ladies The Untold Story of the Two Indomitable Donner Party Survivors Who Founded San Francisco s Most Architecturally Charming Brothel and a Nationwide Cosmetics Distribution NetworkOrder your copy now In fact, don t just order it Order it in advance Wow I picked this up as an impulse buy, thinking my sister who loves all things Jazz Age would want to borrow steal it later Now that I ve read it, she can t have it it s mine Science History Prohibition Murder Accidental deaths due to the utter lack of regulation of drugs, household chemicals, and cosmetics The book has an interestingly layered organization Each chapter is titled for the poison chemical whose investigation is woven the most centrally through that section however, th Wow I picked this up as an impulse buy, thinking my sister who loves all things Jazz Age would want to borrow steal it later Now that I ve read it, she can t have it it s mine Science History Prohibition Murder Accidental deaths due to the utter lack of regulation of drugs, household chemicals, and cosmetics The book has an interestingly layered organization Each chapter is titled for the poison chemical whose investigation is woven the most centrally through that section however, the book is also a chronological biography of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, the scientists who put science at the center of death investigations in New York Deborah Blum uses individual case studies some solved, some not to highlight the development of various detection techniques, Norris and Gettler s efforts to elevate the status of good science in the courtroom, and even the everyday dangers of the era.Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys science, history, and forensics Yes, it s a 4 star read and I didn t finish it I own it The fault is mine, in that I am truly not a reader dedicated to reading non fiction works start to finish Blum s book is fantastic both entertaining and fact filled, and can be approached as a collection of short stories That makes it easy for readers like me to feel no guilt if they put it down and don t pick it up again for several months It also means that readers whose attention span exceeds mine the vast majority of the educate Yes, it s a 4 star read and I didn t finish it I own it The fault is mine, in that I am truly not a reader dedicated to reading non fiction works start to finish Blum s book is fantastic both entertaining and fact filled, and can be approached as a collection of short stories That makes it easy for readers like me to feel no guilt if they put it down and don t pick it up again for several months It also means that readers whose attention span exceeds mine the vast majority of the educated universe can look forward to a delightful read, capable of being finished in a weekend if murder by poison is as interesting to you as it is to me of my chattiness about this book here if you so desire One day I left this book downstairs in the kitchen right next to the coffee maker intending to take it upstairs later, and the next thing I knew there s a post on my husband s facebook page with a photo of this book that reads as follows Hmmmmm, first she has me getlife insurance then I see this book eatouttonight I didn t really ask forlife insurance, but his post is kind of spot on regarding this book one of tof my chattiness about this book here if you so desire One day I left this book downstairs in the kitchen right next to the coffee maker intending to take it upstairs later, and the next thing I knew there s a post on my husband s facebook page with a photo of this book that reads as follows Hmmmmm, first she has me getlife insurance then I see this book eatouttonight I didn t really ask forlife insurance, but his post is kind of spot on regarding this book one of the main points in Blum s study is that for a very long time, people who were so inclined could get away with murder when it came to poisoning With very few exceptions, in this period of time there were a wide range of toxic poisons that were basically undetectable, used as a weapon to get rid of unwanted people That all starts to change with the advent of serious forensic medicine during the 1920s, especially under the auspices of two major figures Dr Charles Norris, and Dr Alexander Gettler Norris was New York s Chief Medical Examiner, while Gettler was a brilliant toxicologist together the two started to change not only the way in which science was used in crime cases, but also brought to the fore the emphasis on how government should work to protect its citizens Beyond being just plain interesting, it s also a very good look at politics of the time, at the failures and dangers of Prohibition, and at the unsuspected dangers that lie hidden in some every day products and how science worked to study them and ultimately lead the fight in making lives safer I first came across this book when one night, I couldn t sleep and decided to watch anything I could find remotely interesting at 2 a.m and chose an American Experience episode with this title I was hooked and then discovered that there was a book and that s all it took I enjoyed The Poisoner s Handbook one thing it did for me was that it hit home that in some ways a lot has changed and happily so since that time but in others, a lot remains the same Today, like in the 1920s, many pro business interests in government continue to represent the interests of corporations at the expense of the people who work in their industries there are still people who for some reason I do not fathom continue to insist that science is wrong, undermining the work of skilled, brilliant people for some political or financial reasons Onething this book takesof a journalistic approach making it highly accessible to everyone, which is a good thing I have only one negative thing to say and that s that each chapter ends in some sort of anecdote which not only adds unnecessary fluff but gets tiresome after a while A lot of readers might enjoy that, but I m all about keeping the flow going so I didn t But that is just such a nit picky kind of thing that really did not make my interest flag or prevent me from being absorbed in this book, and I highly recommend it, especially to people who are into historical true crime Deborah Blum has combined true crime with Jazz Age history and science to create a fascinating book Medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler headed New York City s first scientifically trained forensic team Each chapter features a different poison chloroform, cyanide, arsenic, lead, radium, carbon monoxide, etc with the story of a questionable death, the way the poison attacks the body, and the methods used by the toxicologists to identify the toxin.The most importa Deborah Blum has combined true crime with Jazz Age history and science to create a fascinating book Medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler headed New York City s first scientifically trained forensic team Each chapter features a different poison chloroform, cyanide, arsenic, lead, radium, carbon monoxide, etc with the story of a questionable death, the way the poison attacks the body, and the methods used by the toxicologists to identify the toxin.The most important poison during the Prohibition era was wood methyl alcohol, often tainted with additional substances The government requiredpoisons to be added to industrial alcohol to discourage people from drinking it But some people refused to stop imbibing alcohol during Prohibition, and enjoyed the intrigue of obtaining bootlegged alcohol Tainted alcohol during Prohibition contributed todeaths than drinking normal liquor ethyl alcohol ever had Eventually a constitutional amendment did away with Prohibition.The author is a colorful storyteller so this nonfiction book moves quickly The well researched book was also a tribute to two tireless scientists Norris and Gettler who brought forensic investigation into the modern age in New York I highly recommend this engaging book Please note this book is not actually helpful if you were looking for tips on how to poison someone unless you are the U.S government, in which case there are notes scattered throughout on how to poison industrial alcohols.I wanted to like this book I wanted to rate it higher I m not quite sure what I expected, but I don t think it was this mix of science journalism, novel and research notes I m a biology nerd who enjoys science writing and have two years of chemistry under my belt inclu Please note this book is not actually helpful if you were looking for tips on how to poison someone unless you are the U.S government, in which case there are notes scattered throughout on how to poison industrial alcohols.I wanted to like this book I wanted to rate it higher I m not quite sure what I expected, but I don t think it was this mix of science journalism, novel and research notes I m a biology nerd who enjoys science writing and have two years of chemistry under my belt including organic, which was the most effort I ve put into a college class ever so this should have been like serving truffles to a chocoholic who, me Unfortunately, awkward organization and writing has me wondering if it was laced with wood alcohol.Divided into chapters on early 1900 poisons, it roughly covers the birth of forensic medicine in New York City under one of themotivated chief examiners, Charles Norris, and a talented chemist Alexander Gettler However, a great deal of Prohibition detail is also included, scattered throughout most the chapters The publisher was misleading with the subtitle I suppose The Emerging Disciplines of Medical Examiners and Toxicology in Context of Courtrooms and Politics During Prohibition in New York would not have been nearly so sexy a description as a fascinating Jazz Age tale of chemistry and detection, poison and murder Alas, there is no jazz to speak of There is, however, a paragraph mentioning the development of cocktails in the Prohibition speakeasies as a way of disguising the harsher alcohols now that is a chapter I could have enjoyed Chapters include chloroform, wood alcohol an inadvertent poison resulting from Prohibition , cyanide, arsenic, mercury, carbon monoxide methyl alcohol, radium, and ethyl alcohol To me, the implication in the jacket of tale, implies a singular subject There is no real common link between chapters barring the intermittent appearance of Norris or Gettler , except that they are about poisons and detection Please note, junior scientists, that some of these cases are intentional poisonings, but some are accidental andcorrectly described as casualties of the human search for improvement one story mentions how an over zealous nurse poisoned a child by treating his head lice with the prescribed radium tonic As such, the technical term is likely toxin over poison As the book continues, Blum does little to separate the intentional from the accidental, which is a disservice to the material and the victims In her afterword, Blum mentions how poisoning always seemed particularly horrific because the murderer was not only planning a death, but presumably aware of the potential for the victim s suffering So to discuss both murderers, accused murderers, and those who kill or suicide by accident or ignorance is misleading and imprecise, rather surprising in a science writer.One of the few threads pulling the story together is the difficulty of prosecuting poisoners, and the efforts of examiner Norris and chemist Gettler to build and prove their evidence of cause of death I can only shudder at some of the experiments nowadays, chemistry is conductedor less safely under specially vented lab areas and usually doesn t involve liquified organs One experiment was designed to detect post mortem cyanide, both in poisoned subjects and unpoisoned ones The chemist tested flesh up to 8 weeks old, noting that there was a fair degree of putrefaction Ugh Her writing style is acceptable, although I occasionally found her attempts to add flourish awkward Case in point Or Belle Guinan s El Fay Club on West 45th, where the hostess gleamed like a candelabrum and the house band played CandelabrumReally I found myself completely distracted, unable to decide if she meant the hostess was metallic, on fire, or, in aliteral translation of the word, had hair twisting branch like from her head.Personally, I found narrative structure awkward, both within each chapter and through the book as a whole In the arsenic section, for instance, Blum dramaticizes the story of a young girl who ate a berry pie from a cafe and died, breathing life into her tale Then she starts a new paragraph, states something similar happened the previous October at another cafe, then mentions the cafe is now closed When, exactly, is now In July, when the girl died In 2010 when the book was published Confusing and irrelevant We never find out why the girl died We move on to a brief history of arsenic poisoning, it s decline when it was discovered it could be traced in autopsy, and then, oddly, Blum covers the process of opening a body for autopsy It s the type of writing weirdness that leads me to wonder what she s trying to do The arsenic chapter continues in its hopscotch development by describing the pathology lab, then gang violence in the city from Prohibition While one can argue for creating a mood, it leaves the reader largely unclear as to theme Prohibition continues to ricochet into chapters, and the story related may or may not be pertinent to the poison discussed By no means is the logic challenged narrative confined to the arsenic chapter the chapter on mercury poisoning contains no actual intentional poisonings and then discusses the case of an industrial toxin, tetraethyl lead, used to prevent engine knock.Sections are redeeming, however As a science dork, but generally history impaired, I find it interesting to have the history of chemical science come alive Nowadays, we cringe to hear about cyanide and arsenic in 1920, they were common in the home as pesticides In fact, arsenic was still in topical medicines Both arsenic and lead were used in makeup and still are, dear reader How did society learn about toxicity, except through accidental deaths, man like Norris and Gettler, and the suffering of thousands of dogs, cats and rabbits The book also casts a whole new angle on Prohibition, with the concern that wood alcohol is toxic Learning that our own government deliberately poisoned alcohol with various substances in order to discourage drinking was shocking Can you imagine that now What if agents were out there adding arsenic to soda pop, or Agent Orange to tobacco do be quiet, dear conspiracy theorists It kind of echoes current drug epidemics where people go on using despite the possibility of harm or death.Other interesting mentions radium poisoning Can you imagine buying a tonic made from radioactive materials Or having your doctor suggest you use it Me either, but it wasn t that long ago when it was done The FDA, when it was created, was so toothless that it took scores of people dying and FDR to give it power to regulate pharmaceutical claims three decades later.Ultimately, while sections were interesting and thought provoking, the narrative was far too jumbled to make reading enjoyable I m not quite sure what Blum s chief focus was, but this mix of newspaper articles, court reports, New York history and scientific research is blended too well, and contains a few too many ingredients I can t, in good conscience, say that I d recommend it, unless someone wanted a few creative ideas for 1900s murder mysteries There s clearly a moral to her story here Too bad it s so torturous to find.Cross posted at 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