This is a whole new feature here on SilverButtonBooks! I have been making a more concerted effort to read (and enjoy) more good non-fiction books. With that in mind, I want to shine a light on the non-fiction loves of my reading life with everyone. So, each Friday I plan to feature a scrumptious non-fiction book that caught my fancy. Some will be deep, some will be silly but hopefully all the selections will be informative and enjoyable.
For my first feature I have to recommend The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. This I my go-to non-fiction recommendation for so many reasons. First, the book may be non-fiction, but it reads like a procedural crime novel. Second, it’s poison right? Who doesn’t want to know more about poisons!? Third, it is so good, PBS even made a documentary film of the book available online! (It used to be on the PBS website but now I can only find it on youtube.) Finally, even if you don’t end up loving the book as much as I do, it is a super fun prop for leaving on your desk then quickly hiding from your colleagues. Mwahaha.
When taken as a whole, The Poisoner’s Handbook focuses on the birth of what we now call “forensic science.” In the early 1900’s, America was grossly behind our European counterparts in crime solving science. After a scathing review of New York City’s coroners was published, Charles Norris was named the city’s first Chief Medical Examiner. Together, Norris and his pathology sidekick, Alexander Gettler, developed standards and practices that were eventually adopted and further developed across America.
Individually, each chapter highlights the deadly effects of poisons from carbon monoxide (that stuff coming out the back of them new horse-less carriages), to wood alcohol (damn you Prohibition!), and the classic arsenic (no Old Lace). Like any television show from Bones to my beloved Monk, the chapters introduce us to a victim or victims and then highlights the attempts to solve the mysterious circumstances of their death. Since this book is also set during the early 1900s, there is a wonderful dose of history mixed throughout.
Speaking of history, I must add one caveat. If you are opposed to animal testing, there is a whole lot of it in this book. Just remember, at this time there was no Bob Barker. No one spayed and neutered their dogs. They were everywhere. Remember Sandy from Annie? It was like that. While it did not bother me at all, a friend of mine is adamantly against animal testing and could not read around this facet of the book.
Deborah Blum has a long history with science. Combined with her experience as a professional journalist it is no wonder she so capably takes what could be very boring and makes it fascinating. This book is not as heavy into the science of the poisons as, A is for Arsenic: Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup, and for that I was thankful. Instead, this book is the perfect mixture of history, science and murder.
Tell me, please!
Do you love non-fiction?
If you hate it / avoid it at all costs, tell me why?
And, do you have any recommendations for future features?