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The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison

Out of Print

By: John Emsley

421 pages, Tabs

Oxford University Press

Hardback | Apr 2005 | #153619 | ISBN: 0192805991
Out of Print Details

About this book

Fascinating history of poisons, with much of relevance on environmental issues.

From the publisher's announcement:

How can a chemical we need on a daily basis to keep us healthy be fatal at a different dose? Why should elements that are intrinsically dangerous be used in medicine? How did poisoners use the chemical properties of chemicals to cover their tracks?

Emsley gives detailed histories of five of the most toxic elements - arsenic, antimony, lead, mercury, and thallium, highlighting some of the most famous murders and how the murderers used the chemical properties of elements to hide what they were doing. He shows how the elements have been behind many modern day environmental catastrophes including accidental mass poisonings from lead and arsenic, and the Minamata Bay Disaster in Japan.

The array of fascinating stories shows how chemicals have impacted the lives of people ranging from the Greeks and Romans to Newton, Napoleon, Lucrezia Borgia, Mozart, Nelson Mandela, and Saddam Hussein. Emsley also touches on subjects close to home: cot deaths, laxatives, venereal disease, alleged cures for acne, hangovers, and insanity.

Meticulously researched, this book reads like a novel and a reader could pick up enough colourful anecdotes on which to dine out for some time. The Lancet Endlessly fascinating book...Every page reveals delights and horrors...It is the perfect book to take on a long-haul flight Telegraph The Elements of Murder is full of such intriguing nuggets...Emsley must have been an outstanding chemistry teacher.


1. Deadly elements; 2. The history and the chemistry; 3. One man's medicine is another man's murder weapon; 4. Arsenic and adultry; 5. Off the wall poison; 6. Insidious antimony; 7. Requiem for a metal; 8. Deadly lead; 9. When the Empire struck lead; 10. Mercury in the Tower; 11. Mad cats and mad hatters; 12. Young and deadly; 13. Driving you hairless; Glossary

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