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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't read this over lunch, 19 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play (Hardcover)
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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