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The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play Paperback – 14 Jul 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (14 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199605998
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199605996
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 3.6 x 13 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 396,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

Review

the most unlikely topics can generate books of the utmost interest (The Independent)

a highly entertaining text (Ambix, Vol. 58)

About the Author

James C. Whorton is Professor Emeritus of the History of Medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, and has written numerous articles and books on the history of medicine and health, including

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By D. Harris TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 Feb. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To be Victorian was, it seems, to be arsenicated. The poison was in everything: used as a dye in textiles, wallpaper and even children's toys, added to sweets and foodstuffs, employed to dip sheep and as an insecticide on fruit. It even found its way into beer. It was made into medicines (some of which remained in use well into the 20th century). It was also, of course, used by murderers and would be murderers (perhaps its most familiar role to us). After reading this book, one might wonder how anybody survived the 19th century at all.

In this book, Whorton traces the history of arsenic and its use, including the struggles of forensic chemists to develop tests (all those murder trials!) and traces some of the involved routes by which the chemical came to be consumed. It's not for the fainthearted. The descriptions of the agonies inflicted by arsenic poisoning are hardly lunchtime reading, and the attitude of the authorities, as the scale of the chemical's penetration into everyday life became apparent, can be infuriating. Vested interests (William Morris refused to accept that use of the poison in the wallpapers his firm produced was a danger - he referred to the "arsenic scare") and a laissez-faire attitude unwilling to risk damage to trade, repeatedly hampered attempts to control the use of arsenic. Whorton, of course, draws parallels with later environmental and health threats (though perhaps they hardly need spelling out).

It is an excellent read.

Recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alan Hayhurst on 24 May 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating book by James C Whorton which illustrates just how dangerous it was in Victorian times, with virulent poisons readily on sale and obtainable. One of the worst was Scheele's Green, a dye which produced a lovely green colour on items like wallpaper, fumes from which could be very debilitating and on occasion fatal. The book discloses that Napoleon probably did not die of arsenical poisoning, although he, Josephine and their son were found to have had arsenic residue in their hair over a number of years, probably via Scheele's. Illustrations are largely confined to line drawings. A must for Victorian scholars and anyone who likes true-crime fact, although I found the writing a bit pedestrian, which was disappointing and resulted in the loss of a star. Worth buying though.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bookie TOP 500 REVIEWER on 21 Feb. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I hadn't expected this to be such an enjoyable read. When I say enjoyable, I mean informed, intelligent, entertaining and well researched. The level of detail about the physiological effects of arsenic when ingested is extremely unpleasant, but is necessary to help the reader better understand how and why it was favoured by poisoners.

I learned a great deal about social conditions (especially housing and work). The Victorian period is well depicted and there is fascinating comment on the development of Coroner's Courts and tests for arsenic.

I had not fully appreciated the extent to which arsenic was a factor in day to day life (even well into the latter part of the 20th Century). Frightening! Mr Wharton creates a real sense of social deprivation and injustice and there are some memorable accounts of trials. The prose is assured and elegant; it flows easily and this makes for a lively read of an occasionally difficult subject. Excellent and I'd recommend particularly to anyone who enjoys social history and crime.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Jenner on 27 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is about the direct use and accidental use of arsenic in the Victorian Age.

It would seem that there was some confusion about whether it was actually bad for the populace or not and as today, manufacturers did not take kindly to campaigns to make their practices more stringent and safe. Arsenic was in everything it seems, the whole environment, food, clothes, the air and worse still sometimes beer!

The book goes into detail in each chapter about the ways that arsenic caused a problem and doesnt leave any stone unturned. There is a lot of information about how murderers went about their horrible work and later how they got caught and sometimes got off due to the insufficient abilities of chemists during the century.

Makes you wonder how our ancestors managed to survive. An excellent book, really good read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By FoxWife on 17 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback
I'm only up to Chapter 4. This wonderful book is riveting. If you're fascinated by the history of medicine, health, crime and environmental health then this book won't disappoint. I would love to write like James Whorton, it is thoroughly researched, knowledgeable, and humorous. There are times I've laughed out loud. But if you don't like details of bodies, disease symptoms, avoid it like the plague. Best read in ages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By elly on 5 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book on the strength of other reviews, particularly one review in a national newspaper. I thoroughly enjoyed it - very well written, so interesting and fascinating - even to the lay person. Very well researched scarey topic, am just glad I was not around in Victorian times!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Review on 12 Jun. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"How much can you really say about Arsenic?" was my first thought when I ordered this book but I was encouraged by the positive ratings. Also, it turns out you can actually say a whole lot about Arsenic, in fact there is an entire history to it! An absolutely fascintating read that kept me interested throughout. It's amazing how much of an effect that Arsenic had on so many people, in so many ways! The book is very well written and very educational which made it a pleasure to read. Although, I did scare my friends a bit by continuously coming out with random Arsenic facts and stories etc lol but I couldn't help but share.

Would definitely recommend this book, 10/10 :)
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