The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison

Paperback | September 15, 2006

byJohn Emsley

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This book is about elements that kill. Mercury, arsenic, antimony, lead, and thallium can be lethal, as many a poisoner knew too well. Emsley explores the gruesome history of these elements and those who have succumbed to them in a fascinating narrative that weaves together stories of truecrime, enduring historical mysteries, tragic accidents, and the science behind it all. The colourful cast includes ancient alchemists, kings, leaders, a pope, several great musicians, and a motley crew of murderers. Among the intriguing accounts is that of the 17th century poet Sir Thomas Overbury,who survived four attempts to poison him with mercury but died when given the poison in enema form - under whose direction remains uncertain. Here, too, is detailed the celebrated case of Florence Maybrick, convicted of poisoning her violent husband James with arsenic, but widely believed at thetime to be innocent. The question of her guilt is still disputed.Threaded through the book alongside the history is the growing understanding of chemistry, and the effects of different chemical substances on the human body. Thousands suffered the ill effects of poisonous vapours from mercury, lead, and arsenic before the dangers were realized. Hatters went madbecause of mercury poisoning, and hundreds of young girls working in factories manufacturing wallpaper in the 19th century were poisoned by the arsenic-based green pigments used for the leaves of the popular floral designs. Even in the middle of the 20th century, accidental mercury poisoning causedmany deaths in Minamata Bay, while leaded petrol poisoned the whole planet, and arsenic still continues to poison millions is Asia.Through vividly told stories of innocent blunders, industrial accidents, poisoners of various hues - cold, cunning, desperate - and deaths that remain a mystery, Emsley here uncovers the dark side of the Periodic Table.

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This book is about elements that kill. Mercury, arsenic, antimony, lead, and thallium can be lethal, as many a poisoner knew too well. Emsley explores the gruesome history of these elements and those who have succumbed to them in a fascinating narrative that weaves together stories of truecrime, enduring historical mysteries, tragic a...

John Emsley won the Science Book prize in 1995 for his iConsumer's Good Chemical Guide/i, and followed this with a series of popular science books: iMolecules at an Exhibition/i, iWas it Something You Ate?/i (co-authored with Peter Fell), iThe Shocking History of Phosphorus/i, iNature's Building Blocks/i, and iVanity, Vitality, and Vi...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:432 pages, 7.72 × 5.08 × 1.11 inPublished:September 15, 2006Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0192806009

ISBN - 13:9780192806000

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Table of Contents

1. Deadly elements2. The history and the chemistry3. One man's medicine is another man's murder weapon4. Arsenic and adultry5. Off the wall poison6. Insidious antimony7. Requiem for a metal8. Deadly lead9. When the Empire struck lead10. Mercury in the Tower11. Mad cats and mad hatters12. Young and deadly13. Driving you hairlessGlossary

Editorial Reviews

`Endlessly fascinating book...Every page reveals delights and horrors...It is the perfect book to take on a long-haul flight'Telegraph