The Poisoner's HandbookPublished on Saturday, November 16, 2019
Yet another microhistory, this one about the emergence of forensic medicine as a scientific discipline in the early twentieth century. Blum traces this history primarily through the tales of Charles Norris, the first New York City medical examiner with specialized training, and his chief toxicologist, Alexander Gettler. The history of how people of the time poisoned each other and how the practices of forensic pathology and toxicology evolved to keep up is a fascinating read. Blum frames the story by poison, detailing Norris’s and Gettler’s methodical progression from detecting arsenic to detecting methyl alcohol to detecting thallium, giving the history the feel of a cat-and-mouse caper with forensic investigators hot on the heels of the city’s increasingly sophisticated poisoners.