The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison Paperback – 14 Sep 2006
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Review from previous edition A readable anecdotal history of killing. This book will be enjoyed by those who like good detective stories, intriguing snippets of history, popular science and murder most foul. (Chemistry World)
...authoritative and meticulously researched... Emsley knows what he is talking about. This is a lovely book. (Roger P Smith, Nature Vol 436)
A delightful potion of chemical erudition, forgotten science history and ghastly murder schemes Along the way, the bodies pile up as Emsley relates spectacular case histories of poisonings, accidental and criminal...Reading ''The Elements of Murder'' is like watching a hundred episodes of ''CSI,'' but without having to sit through the tedious personal relationships of the characters. (New York Times Book Review)
...fascinating, wide-ranging and, let's not mince words, macabre new history of poison...a truly guilty pleasure
Fascinating brew of academic research and titilating murder mysteries...vivid and anecdotal history of poison (Daily Mail)
He describes the chemistry with a light touch that makes the book accessible to non-chemists and, indeed, non-scientists. There is much here to fascinate a broad readership. (THES)
a fascinating ancedotal history of killing. With something of interest on almost every page, it combines the satisfaction of a detective story, intriguing snippets of history, popular science, unsolved mysteries and murder. A powerful brew. (Telegraph)
Meticulously researched, this book reads like a novel and a reader could pick up enough colourful anecdotes on which to dine out some time. Just be careful what, or whom, you eat. (Lancet)
Meticulously researched, this book reads like a novel and a reader could pick up enough colourful anecdotes on which to dine out for some time. (The Lancet)
Endlessly fascinating book...Every page reveals delights and horrors...It is the perfect book to take on a long-haul flight (Telegraph)
This book is about elements that kill. Mercury, arsenic, antimony, lead, and thallium can be lethal, as many a poisoner knew too well. Emsley explores the gruesome history of these elements and those who have succumbed to them in a fascinating narrative that weaves together stories of true crime, enduring historical mysteries, tragic accidents, and the science behind it all. The colourful cast includes ancient alchemists, kings, leaders, a pope, several great musicians, and a motley crew of murderers. Among the intriguing accounts is that of the 17th century poet Sir Thomas Overbury, who survived four attempts to poison him with mercury but died when given the poison in enema form - under whose direction remains uncertain. Here, too, is detailed the celebrated case of Florence Maybrick, convicted of poisoning her violent husband James with arsenic, but widely believed at the time to be innocent. The question of her guilt is still disputed. Threaded through the book alongside the history is the growing understanding of chemistry, and the effects of different chemical substances on the human body.Thousands suffered the ill effects of poisonous vapours from mercury, lead, and arsenic before the dangers were realized. Hatters went mad because of mercury poisoning, and hundreds of young girls working in factories manufacturing wallpaper in the 19th century were poisoned by the arsenic-based green pigments used for the leaves of the popular floral designs. Even in the middle of the 20th century, accidental mercury poisoning caused many deaths in Minamata Bay, while leaded petrol poisoned the whole planet, and arsenic still continues to poison millions is Asia. Through vividly told stories of innocent blunders, industrial accidents, poisoners of various hues - cold, cunning, desperate - and deaths that remain a mystery, Emsley here uncovers the dark side of the Periodic Table. See all Product description
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It starts off with a brief lesson on early chemistry, or alchemy as it was then, it’s from there onwards that it starts to get bogged down. It has to be said though that almost half the book is taken up with two elements, Arsenic and Mercury. That's one of my main issues. There's a lot of virtually identical stories about particular poisoning cases, which could easily have been cut down. The amount of historical detail is far more than is required.
The other half of the book is divided in Antimony, Lead and Thallium, with a final chapter on everything else. It's unfortunate that this came out the year before the Polonium poisoning in London, as that element is not mentioned. The second half is better with fewer stories, and less historical detail and is stronger for it.
There's an interesting book in here, but it's buried under the weight of detail. A good editor would have made a lot of difference.
One final point. The book was obviously laid out for the paper versions. The lay out has not been amended for the kindle version, which leaves the multiple footnotes in interesting places. Where in the paper version, the footnote would be at the bottom of the physical page, this means that in some cases the footnotes appear half way through a paragraph. Again, something a good editor would have sorted.
Just with a little warning: Use it, but think deeply before you act!!
For something much more worthwhile read Poisons: From Hemlock to Botox and the Killer Bean of Calabar by Peter Macinnins.