A deadly secret lurks within our kitchens, medicine cabinets and gardens.
Scratch the surface of a coffee bean, a chilli flake or an apple seed and find a bevy of strange chemicals – biological weapons in a war raging unseen. Here, beetles, birds, bats and butterflies must navigate a minefield of specialised chemicals and biotoxins, each designed to maim and kill. And yet these chemicals, evolved to repel marauding insects and animals, have now become an integral part of our everyday lives. Some we use to greet our days (caffeine) and titillate our tongues (capsaicin), others to bend our minds (psilocybin) and take away our pains (opioids).
Inspired by his father's love of the natural world and his eventual spiral into the depths of addiction, evolutionary biologist Noah Whiteman explores how we came to use – and abuse – these chemicals. Delving into the mysterious origins of plant and fungal toxins, and their unique human history, Most Delicious Poison provides a kaleidoscopic tour of nature's most delectable and dangerous poisons.
Noah Whiteman is a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists. He has been featured in Nature, Science, Scientific American, and appeared alongside the late Stephen Hawking for his last television series, Genius by Stephen Hawking.
"Noah Whiteman expertly reveals the evolution of the toxins that permeate our daily lives in this deeply researched and fascinating book."
– Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Laureate
"Magisterial, fascinating, and gripping, Noah Whiteman's Most Delicious Poison is a tour de force. With infectious enthusiasm and deep knowledge, Whiteman opens the curtain behind the substances that affect all of our lives."
– Neil Shubin, author of Some Assembly Required
"Through captivating storytelling, Noah Whiteman breathes life into the history of nature's toxins, exploring the pleasures, comforts, and agonies that have shaped human evolution as it has intertwined with the evolution of these vital yet often overlooked organisms."
– Beth Shapiro, author of Life As We Made It
"Humans have benefitted for millennia from the wild variety of healing, intoxicating, delicious or stimulating toxins produced by the biological warfare that pervades the natural world. Whiteman provides a wonderful overview of the diversity and ubiquity of these drugs, giving us an inspiring, entertaining look at both the richness of nature and the clever ways humans – and many other species – have learned to exploit it."
– Edward Slingerland, author of Drunk
"I wish I could travel the world with Noah Whiteman and enjoy firsthand his deep and eclectic knowledge of the thousands of compounds that plants evolved to defend themselves against predators. Fortunately, he has written Most Delicious Poison. This exuberant, poignant, and mind-blowing guide will transform how you think about plants and how humans use and abuse their toxins to flavor food, treat disease, alter moods, and more."
– Daniel E. Lieberman, author of The Story of the Human Body and Exercised
"A fascinating discussion of how nature's toxins can affect us all."