- Alexandra (Ola) Jacunski
- Alexandra Jacunski is a first-year graduate student at Columbia University in the Integrated Program in Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Studies. She hopes to focus on some combination of microbiology, pharmacology, and computational biology. Undergraduate degree completed at Columbia College of Columbia University (B.A. Biology and English Literature, 2011)
Friday, March 9, 2012
Book Review: The Poisoner's Handbook
Did you know... that the US government tried to stop people from drinking bootleg alcohol during Prohibition by adding extra poisons to methanol?
Details: I bought this book months ago, inspired by a BookRiot.com post. I figured it would be an interesting read, as it encompasses many things I find fascinating: science, history, and murder. I was not disappointed - the book was everything I had hoped for and more.
Blum traces the history of forensic toxicology using poisons as 'markers' - each chapter is wound around a specific theme, such as carbon monoxide or methanol. These smaller sections are all linked together with several stories: the rise and fall of Prohibition in the United States; the creation of the first position of Chief Medical Examiner in NYC; and many murder cases. She also illustrates - briefly yet effectively - how necessary a body like the FDA was and continues to be.
I really loved how she extrapolated on the grappling that Dr. Norris, Chief Medical Examiner, constantly had to undertake with the Mayor - it was a sad note of how things change very slowly, if at all, and how few people understand (or respect) science, and, distressingly, still rings true for the present day. I also enjoyed how she provided a brief history of each poison, and how we came to know its effects.
My favourite part of all: the section about radium. I don't want to give anything away, but this chapter made my stomach turn with every page - both in terms of the effects of the element itself, and how corporations handled the fallout as people learned more about it. If you only have time to read a fraction of the book, flip ahead to that one.
All in all: this is a great book that I recommend to anyone from a budding scientist to an Agatha Christie fanatic, history buff, or current/future lawyer. I promise you won't regret picking it up.