The roles poisons have played in history from ancient times to the present are presented in this frequently ghoulish, occasionally cheeky chronicle.
Albee explains that “as long as humans have lived in social groups, poisons have played a part.” She explores the impacts poisons, both natural and manufactured, have had on history, crime, medicine, science, religion, slavery, jobs, advertising, and everyday life. Poison was used to end the lives of such famous and infamous figures as Socrates, Alexander the Great, Rasputin, Joseph Stalin, and Yasser Arafat, numerous Roman emperors, and more than a few popes. With poisons such as arsenic and strychnine easily available in pharmacies until the early 20th century, murder by poison was not limited to the notable and powerful. Poisoning fell out of favor with advances in forensic science and toxicology. Albee also discusses the applications of poisons in medical treatment; these were often detrimental or fatal to the patient but could be beneficial, as in chemotherapy for cancer. The countless lives affected by greedy “snake oil” salesmen, food contaminants, and industrial toxins are also explored. Complementing the narrative are sidebars highlighting specific poisons, unresolved questions, and unsolved mysteries. Albee’s approach to the subject is lively, accessible, and likely to inspire many readers to delve deeper.
A compelling, entertaining, and informative introduction to a sinister aspect of human history. (timeline, glossary, resources, notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)