12 May 2011

London Science Book Club 3

Last night was the latest meeting of the London Science Book Club. We went for a heavyweight tome last time, so for this month we settled on something a little lighter... The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum.

I read it while travelling, which I think might have caused a little panic on planes and trains because the title sounds almost like a manual, when in fact it is the riveting tale of forensic science in New York during Prohibition. Blum's book belongs to that emerging genre of narrative science books, with the characters at the centre of the story rather than the science. In this case, the protagonists are the famous forensic scientists, Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, who built up New York's forensic laboratories and developed techniques for detecting poisons almost from scratch.

We unanimously loved it. In fact, many of us have already started recommending it to others. The chapters are divided by poison, from methanol to thallium, and she manages to skilfully weave a huge dose of chemistry in with the history without making the book any less readable. Every page comes alive with descriptions of smoky speakeasies and the fantastic tales of weird and gruesome killers (a little too gruesome for me, though, I have to admit).

Our next pick is Marcus Chown's Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You. So look out for our review in August!

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