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0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Deborah Blum Narrator: Coleen Marlo Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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, while 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 compelling account of a forgotten New York.

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Quotes & Awards

  • The Poisoner’s Handbook is an inventive history that, like arsenic, mixed into blackberry pie, goes down with ease.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Blum illuminates these tales of Norris and Gettler and their era with a dedication and exuberance that reflect the men themselves. Not only is The Poisoner’s Handbook as thrilling as any CSI episode, but it also offers something even better: an education in how forensics really works.”

    Washington Post

  • “Fast-paced and suspenseful, The Poisoner’s Handbook breathes deadly life into the Roaring Twenties.”

    Financial Times

  • “All the nitty-gritty about death by arsenic, by thallium, by wood alcohol, is here in precise, gruesome detail. It makes for a stomach-turning read…Ms. Blum’s combination of chemistry and crime fiction creates a vicious, page-turning story that reads more like Raymond Chandler than Madame Curie.”

    New York Observer

  • “In this bubbling beaker of a book, [Blum] mixes up a heady potion of forensic toxicology, history and true crime…The Poisoner’s Handbook will get into your head. You’ll find yourself questioning the chemicals in our everyday lives. What’s really in our food, cosmetics, pesticides, cleaning supplies, children’s toys and pet dinners? This isn’t just a good read. It’s a summons to study labels, research, think and act.”

    Dallas Morning News

  • The Poisoner’s Handbook succeeds as science, as history, as entertainment and as an argument for the power and purpose of popular science writing.”

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

  • “With the pacing and rich characterization of a first-rate suspense novelist, Blum makes science accessible and fascinating.”

    Publishers Weekly, starred review

  • “Blum has cooked up a delicious, addictive brew: murder, forensic toxicology, New York City in the 20s, the biochemistry of poison. I loved this book. I knocked it back in one go and now I want more!”

    Mary Roach, author of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

  • “Caviar for true-crime fans and science buffs alike.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • Formative figures in forensics, Norris and Gettler become fascinating crusaders in Blum’s fine depiction of their work in the law-flouting atmosphere of Prohibition-era New York.”

    Booklist

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About the Author
Author Deborah Blum

Deborah Blum is a journalist and the author of The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. She worked as a newspaper science writer for twenty years, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her writing about primate research, which she turned into the book The Monkey Wars.