Book Reports Libby

The Poisoner’s Handbook

I am a pretty avid reader – I must read anywhere from 3-6 books a month. Not bad considering it’s all pretty much done in 10-30 minute increments right before I fall asleep drooling on the page (“Note to self: don’t lend Libby any books…”). I love reading and always have – it is a great way to learn something or escape something. I love the way I can fall in love with a character and by the end feel so sad it’s over like we just broke up (the tragically sad Victoria in The Language of Flowers), or even get angry at some long dead historical figure (I’m looking at you, General George B. McClellan!).

My husband, who can only read if something is on an electronic device, is aware of my love of reading – over the years he has kind-heartedly mocked me for bringing piles of books on our canoeing trips or shoving them into our suitcase for international adventures (yes, he bought me a Kindle). He is also very gentle when marking my drooled page and turning out the light. For Christmas, he bought me a book entitled The Poisoner’s Handbook. Was this a request, a challenge or a lark?? Whatever it was, it was awesome.

It is one of my favorite kinds of books: non-fiction that reads like fiction…a page turner with true moxie! This book ranks right up there with The Devil in the White City (read it!). Poisoner’s is all about the birth of forensic science and focuses on all the everyday household products that existed at the turn of the century (the last one, not this one) that could kill you. It is the intersection of Prohibition (what a terrible idea…really, terrible), breakthroughs in scientific methodology, and murder. It mostly follows one guy, Charles Norris, who was the first Chief Medical Examiner in New York City who actually knew about science and medicine and wasn’t on the take. He forms a team of smart, curious people (Alexander Gettler was a chemist who was just obsessive enough to pretty much create modern toxicology) who are either solving murders or outing the government for failing to protect the people. It’s outrageous and you’ll thank your lucky stars that these guys existed…otherwise, you may never have!

– Libby Bingham

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