Poison References: Emsley and Blum

There comes a time when most authors are going to need a book on poison.

Recently, I’ve read two, and they have both been topnotch. I would like to recommend them to you.

The Elements of Murder by John Emsley. British chemist John Emsley has written a book that takes you on a journey to the “darker part of the periodic table.” The book is divided into six sections: mercury, arsenic, lead, thallium, antimony, and a catch all section of other periodic poisons at the end. The book scientifically describes the element, breaks down its deadly qualities, and talks about accidental and deliberate poisoning with the element. Along the way we learn useful tidbits about how the poison was used (and abused!) in a variety of historical incidents.

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum: This engrossing tome is a biography of two of forensics most important historical figures: Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler. These two transformed the way medical evidence was perceived in American courts. Part historical account, part forensic education, I had a hard time putting this book down. It’s a fascinating read in a world where poisoners often get off, and the government decides that poisoning alcohol to enforce Prohibition is the moral thing to do. History and science are unsettling in this book, as are the doubts of the scientific detectives themselves as they refine their techniques. This book will definitely make my best of the year list.


I need to find a couple of good books about venoms and plant based toxins, but I’m now up on the chemical side of things. Best not put any incriminating quips in my blog, however, lest an investigation come home to roost later.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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