Debut author George presents an in-depth book on poisons.
Just about any substance can be deleterious when taken in large enough amounts—caffeine pills or even water. The book’s focus, however, is on more familiar types of poisoning and overdosing. Topics include common deadly plants, recreational drugs, and many types of intentional poisonings, whether the intent is homicidal or suicidal. Technical terms occur throughout, including symptoms of many poisonings, like tachycardia (i.e. “fast heartbeat”), but the text is still highly readable for the layperson. Each chapter includes case studies that illustrate a person or people becoming very ill and often dying due to something they ingested— knowingly or not. Such studies tend to stick to the basics—the substance, when the situation occurred, and legal repercussions, if any, for the parties involved. While details can be scant, those included are often riveting. A number of examples of accidental consumption involve an unlabeled or incorrectly labeled poisonous substance, like the seemingly innocuous yet highly lethal ethylene glycol, a sweet tasting, common ingredient in antifreeze. A chapter on plants drives home the point that even big, beautiful flowers like the Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens) can be deadly when consumed. A section on “Multiple Victim Poisonings” details how easy it can be to poison many people at once, whether the intent is as harmless as a dish at a company picnic or as sinister as a cult suicide or even a targeted attack.
George deploys the requisite dark humor; on the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult: “There is no evidence to indicate whether or not the cult members were successful in targeting their souls to a higher level in the universe.” In contrast to the real-life examples, the book can wax somewhat obvious; for example, “The properties of the specific poison dictate the method of administration.” Surely even the most heedless poisoner would not try to administer an undissolved solid poison in a liquid. Nevertheless, as the case studies show, simply because someone makes use of a poison does not necessarily mean they understand the poison’s properties. Then there are those who know the hazards of a poison and yet will go to great lengths to consume it. The text is rife with troubling practices like opioid addicts’ brewing a “tea” from fentanyl patches. For those who have given little thought to the many noxious substances around them, the book serves as an eye opener. Even compounds the reader has likely heard of can be found in unexpected places. It turns out nicotine is a naturally occurring component in a number of plants (including eggplant, though of course there’s much more nicotine in tobacco), and it’s not unheard of for helium to be utilized in suicides. By the book’s end, it seems that even the most reckless reader would approach the many ingestible hazards of the world with fresh apprehension.
Provides a highly informative, if occasionally technical, look at the world of harmful substances.