Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
First of all, kudos to Deborah Blum and her publishers for picking Coleen Marlo to narrate this book. Marlo is fantastic narrating Amy Stewart’s “Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects” and “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks,” pronouncing complex scientific names and using foreign pronunciations easily (well, at least in the five languages I know well enough to know if she’s saying the words correctly.)
Blum’s “The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York”. Rather than focusing solely on a particular crime or group of particular poisoners, Blum’s chapters are (in order): Chloroform; Wood Alcohol; Cyanides; Arsenic; Mercury; Carbon Monoxide Part I; Methyl Alcohol; Radium; Ethyl Alcohol; Carbon Monoxide Part II; and Thallium.
“The Poisoner’s Handbook” describes how the poisons were developed and used, and how the forensic science developed techniques to uncover the poisons. Blum weaves the tales of the scientists who worked so hard to make sure that cruel, careful murders by poisoners were detected. She also discusses a plethora of unintentional poisonings, and the public health risks that caused them.
The biggest cause of accidental poisonings was, in Jazz Age New York, prohibition. Blum describes New York City in the early 20th century so completely, I can see it in my mind, with horses and buggies, Model-T Fords, and a scrum of long-vanished air pollution.
"The Poisoner's Handbook" is lively and intriguing, and well worth the listen.
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My friends and I, playing cops and robbers during first grade recess, always solemnized each capture by administering the Miranda Warning perfectly. No, we weren't living in a challenging neighborhood - Jack Webb's Dragnet and Adam 12 were early evening rerun staples out local ABC affiliate.
20 years later, in law school, Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, its constitutional basis, and its numerous exceptions, took weeks of my criminal law class. I did wonder who Ernesto Miranda was; whether he had actually committed the crime he was convicted of; how his case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court; and what ended up happening to him. This book answers those questions, and more, about Miranda and other key criminal cases.
Michael S. Lief and H. Mitchell Caldwell provide a careful historical and cultural framework for these cases, and detailed personal histories of both the accused and the victims. Chapter 1, which deals with lynching in the south, is especially chilling.
These are the trials that are in the book, in the order that they are in (thanks Google Books for the table of contents), and I'm including the Audible concordance for anyone who wants to go to a specific case:
Ch 1 (Audible 1-2). When Mob Rule Trumps the Rule of Law. The unfortunate case of a man lynched in 1906, after the US Supreme Court agreed to review his capital conviction for rape establishes that the state has an obligation to protect prisoners in its custody.
Ch 2 (Audible 1-4). When the Constable Blunders. In 1956, evidence becomes inadmissible because it is obtained illegally and it is the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" - even if the evidence is porn.
Ch 3 (Audible 1-6). Rules of Engagement. An (overly) sympathetic look at Randy Weaver and Ruby Ridge in 1992. Regardless, Gerry Spence's tactics were legendary (he presented no defense) and his hours long closing argument was compelling.
Ch 4 (Audible 2-3). Defending the Despised. Future president John Adams defends the British soldiers accused of killing American colonists in the Boston Massacre.
Ch 5 (Audible 2-5). You Have the Right to Remain Silent. The Miranda decision.
Ch 6 (Audible 2-7). The Black Doctor and the White Mob. Clarence Darrow successfully defends a Black family of professionals on trial for a 1925 killing in Detroit when a blue collar White mob attacked after the family moved into the neighborhood.
Ch 7 (Audible 3-3). The Trial of the (Nineteenth) Century. Congressman Daniel Sickles uses the temporary insanity defense after killing Phillip Barton Key, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, in 1859. Scandal knows no century.
Ch 8 (Audible 3-5). Genius, Scoundrel, Traitor. Former Vice President Aaron Burr's trial for the one crime listed in the U.S. Constitution, treason. Good history of Burr, trial a bit boring.
There were three narrators on this Audible, and that mostly worked - a few rough spots, but they weren't jarring enough so that I was distracted from the book.
This is under the Audible category "Mysteries and Thrillers - True Crime" but it's misplaced. It belongs in History.
When I finished this, I went looking for the first two books in the Closing Argument Chronicles - "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury" (2000) (famous trials) and "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down" (civil rights) (2006). They aren't on Audible, darn it.
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Columbine has been in the news recently, with the November 13, 2012 release of Andrew Solomon's "Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity" (which is available on Audible). Sue Klebold, Dylan Klebold's mother, is quoted as saying that she prayed her son would kill himself or die before he hurt anyone else.
The Klebolds, like the parents of Eric Harris, the other shooter, rarely give interviews. They did give testimony under oath as part of a lawsuit, but the testimony was sealed and only the victims and their survivors were allowed to hear the testimony.
I'd listened to most of this book before Columbine came into the news again, and I wasn't surprised by Sue Klebold's comments.
This book addresses the question of both how and why Harris and Klebold made their plans to massacre their classmates.
It wasn't because they were outcasts, or were bullied, or came from horrible homes.
The Klebolds and Harrises were never divorced, and they didn't hit their children. When the families learned of problems with the boys after both were arrested for felony theft, the families made the boys accept responsibility and got them counseling.
Neither Klebold nor Harris were bullied. In fact, it was quite the contrary - Harris was a bully.
Klebold and Harris weren't outcasts. They weren't part of a "Trench Coat Mafia" - that was an entirely different group at Columbine. The TCM didn't even know the shooters. The shooters wore trench coats to hide sawed off shot guns. The boys dated, and hung out with friends.
The problem, as Cullen explains in detail, was that Eric Harris was a psychopath, and he found the perfect accolyte in Dylan Klebold, who had been suicidally depressed for at least two years. Harris wanted to kill everyone, and Klebold wanted to go out in a way that would be remembered.
The most horrifying part is that Harris especially gave advance warning of what he intended to do - and the Littleton police never followed up on a website given to them a year before the carnage that showed his intent.
I was not too happy with the narration - it was a little slower than I prefer, and at times, the audio sped up a bit, changing the timbre of the narrator's voice. That was distracting.
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