Monday, March 7, 2011

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

New York’s reputation as amoral and debauched began far before the 21st Century. One newspaper clipping from the 1900s notes New York City as “a den of bootleggers, rum-runners, owners of speakeasy property, wet newspapers, underworld denizens, alcoholic slaves and personal liberty fanatics."

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum explores the history and chemistry of toxicology at the turn-of-the-century. Cold blooded murder, sex, corruption, booze – The Poisoner's Handbook has it all. I sometimes find myself bemoaning nonfiction as dry and uninteresting. But isn't real history often more interesting than fiction? This book is certainly no exception.

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Deborah Blum dissects the most popular poisons of choice, organizing each chapter by the designated venom. Including glamorous and exciting stories of poison laced pie crusts, faked car crashes and government bootlegging conspiracies, Blum begins by describing headline grabbing events and goes on to analyze the physical components of each poison.

Alexander Gettler, right, and colleagues in the first toxicology laboratory of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, City of New York, in a photo from 1922 or 1923.
Photo by
The Poisoner’s Handbook focuses on the careers of Manhattan’s first professional medical examiner, Dr. Charles Norris, and its first toxicologist, Alexander Gettler, who together developed forensic science in New York City.

Join us on March 8th as Deborah Blum will speak about her newest book. Come and enjoy intriguing conversation and have a glass of wine. But keep your cyanide at home, won’t you?

Posted by Amy Ganser

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