Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum follows New York City's first forensic scientists to discover a fascinating Jazz Age story of chemistry and detection, poison and murder. Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very... read more
Chemical by chemical, poison by poison. Many products that were not considered poisonous were investigated by chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler. Unfortunately most of their research is after the fact. It is too late for those who have succumbed to the... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Chemical by chemical, poison by poison. Many products that were not considered poisonous were investigated by chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler. Unfortunately most of their research is after the fact. It is too late for those who have succumbed to the element before the analysis is complete. With the passage of time, the discovery of new elements, intriguingly meticulous methods of experimentation, and an almost obsessive need to get more and more precise, Norris and Gettler continue to find new ways to determine smaller and smaller amounts of the toxins in the victims. This is the passage of time, new knowledge gained in the fields of science, chemistry and forensics along with the political games between government, the rich, those who want new and better methods to determine the what and why in order to help others, as well as the literally poor victims trapped into the times and habits that control them.
“It would be imprecise to say that Dr. Charles Norris loved the job of chief medical examiner. He lived it and breathed it. He spent his own money on it. He gave it power and prominence and wore himself into exhaustion and illness over it. Under his direction, the New York City medical examiner's office would become a department that set forensic standards for the rest of the country.”
“"A much neglected field of medical endeavor is open to those of us who pursue this widely important branch." What would happen if researchers didn't contribute to the field? he asked, and answered: "Grave injustice to the relatives of the deceased...justice <would be> flaunted and innocent people bear the brunt due to a system which fosters ignorance, prejudice and graft."”Doctor Charles Norris: written in an essay on forensic medicine
When the enzymes in the liver break apart methyl alcohol, the result is the two poisons formic acid and formaldehyde. Ethyl alcohol, by contrast, dissolves rather easily into acetic acid, the bitter but basically harmless compound that is the primary constituent in vinegar, and the acid breaks down further into carbon dioxide and water.Highlighted by 11 Kindle customers
The list of New York City coroners, from 1898 to 1915, included eight undertakers, seven politicians, six real estate dealers, two saloonkeepers, two plumbers, a lawyer, a printer, an auctioneer, a wood carver, a carpenter, a painter, a butcher, a marble cutter, a milkman, an insurance agent, a labor leader, and a musician.Highlighted by 10 Kindle customers
WHETHER SWALLOWED or inhaled, all members of the cyanide family kill in the same way—they shut down the body’s ability to carry or absorb oxygen.Highlighted by 10 Kindle customers
By the end of the 1920s, researchers knew that tobacco smoke contained more than nicotine and carbon monoxide. They’d also found cyanide, hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde, ammonia, and pyridine, the latter a component in industrial solvents.Highlighted by 9 Kindle customers
The attraction between hemoglobin and carbon monoxide is some two hundred times stronger than that between hemoglobin and oxygen.Highlighted by 9 Kindle customers
Lucretia and Cesare Borgia, feared in fifteenth-century Italy for their ruthless mixture of politics and poison.Highlighted by 9 Kindle customers
CYANIDES POSSESS a uniquely long, dark history, probably because they grow so bountifully around us. They flavor the leaves of the yew tree, the flowers of the cherry laurel, the kernels of peach and apricot pits, and the fat pale crunch of bitter almonds. They ooze in secretions of arthropods like millipedes, weave a toxic thread through cyanobacteria, massed in the floating blue-green algae along the edges of the murkier ponds and lakes, and live in plants threaded through forests and fields.Highlighted by 8 Kindle customers
The following year Congress passed and Roosevelt signed the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which empowered the FDA to demand safety testing and accurate labeling and to hold manufacturers legally responsible for harming their customers.Highlighted by 8 Kindle customers
But Ginger Jake hardly dampened enthusiasm for a very promising new group of industrial chemical compounds that people usually didn’t drink. It didn’t take long for military scientists, in particular, to see the weaponlike potential in organophosphate compounds. By the end of the 1930s, Nazi researchers in Germany had developed four nerve gases—the most famous of which is sarin—all of which build on the kind of damage seen in the Ginger Jake tragedy, and which are so ugly in effect that most have never been used in warfare at all.Highlighted by 7 Kindle customers
In early 1930 the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company reported that deaths due to alcoholism were now 600 percent higher (among its 19 million policyholders) than those tallied in 1920, the first year that consumption of alcohol was prohibited. These statistics suggested that Prohibition had fostered a nation of heavy drinkers and that the habit was killing thousands of people.Highlighted by 6 Kindle customers
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