“As a science writer for the Sacramento Bee, Blum (rhymes with gum) wrote a series of articles examining the professional, ethical, and emotional conflicts between scientists who use animals in their research and animal rights activists who oppose that research. Titled "The Monkey Wars", the series won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting. (courtesy of Wikipedia)”
I’m pleased to welcome bestselling author Deborah Blum to The Novel Road…
Deborah: I grew up reading my mother's collection of early 20th century mysteries - Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Georgette Heyes, Leslie Ford, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout - and those writers were masters at spinning elegant, slippery tales of poison murders. So I was long-fascinated by the deviousness of a poison killer. Later when I became a science writer, I started thinking about writing a book that might be an old-fashioned murder mystery but also a primer on the really fascinating chemistry of lethal substances. And that idea eventually became The Poisoner's Handbook.
Deborah: Don't you wish there were some good studies into that question? Yes, I've no doubt we're haunted in many ways by our chemical past. Think of the common use of poisons like arsenic as insecticides, lead in pain and gasoline, mercury in medications - all heavy metals that bioaccumulate. At least we're getting smarter about those elements. Although, of course, we go on to replace them with others.
Deborah: I think of myself as kind of subversive. If you look at Poisoner's Handbook, it's foremost a story about a couple of heroic forensic scientists trying to decipher poisons, catch killers, prevent public health disasters. But behind that is my own fascination with chemistry as a beautiful, fundamental and sinister science. So I try to find ways to weave the chemistry and use real life to illustrate my points. I do the same thing in my blog, Speakeasy Science (blogs.plos.org/speakeasyscience). Recently I wrote a post called "The Chemist As Murderer" which is about a rather creepy recent murder case in New Jersey, but also about the toxic element thallium, and its history.
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"The New York Times: “The Poisoner’s Handbook is an inventive history that, like arsenic mixed into blackberry pie, goes down with ease.”
"The Washington Post: Not only is "The Poisoner's Handbook" as thrilling as any "CSI" episode, but it also offers something even better: an education in how forensics really works."