Well-researched history that reads like a thriller, this book would have benefitted from a better narrator. Although her voice is pleasant and well-modulated, she mispronounces some words (phthalate, for example, or "indicated" for "indicted"). The most annoying drawback is her inexplicable use of a Bronx blue-collar accent for the voice of the toxicologist. If you can get past these flaws, you will enjoy this book if you are a fan of mysteries, forensics, and/or history: this is an intersection of all three. I enjoyed it very much, but would opt for the print version if I ever re-read it someday.
Yes, if there was a detail I wanted to refresh my memory on.
It's a fascinating look at how New York city changed from a city full of corrupt and incompetent coroners to lead the way in forensic toxicology. The book is both a chapter by chapter look at different poisons that were popular over the years, and the story of New York's new Chief Medical Examiner Charles Norris and his head toxicologist as they reform the corrupt city system and race to keep up with the poisoners who are moving on to new types of poison as soon as the researchers figure out how to detect the use of the previous poison.
Besides being a fascinating look at the history and some case studies of poisoning, it's also a striking history of Norris, who was clearly a passionately dedicated man whose reforms to the system must have saved more lives than can possibly be counted. In addition to reforming the city coroners and establishing a world class forensics team and related procedures, he also campaigned against the use of poisons such as arsenic and cyanide in common household products (everything from beauty creams to wallpaper), pushed for regulations to require corporations to list the ingredients in their products and to be held legally accountable for injuries caused, and was far ahead of his time in warning about the dangers of car exhaust and smoking, among other things.
He was also an outspoken opponent of prohibition and the book is an interesting look at prohibition from the point of view of toxicology, as Norris and his team watched in horror as the number of accidental poisoning cases escalated sharply due to the unregulated ingredients of moonshine, the way prohibition converted casual drinkers to binge drinkers, and the way the government actually actively poisoned (with extremely dangerous and known to be lethal compounds) all other sources of alcohol that might be used to create moonshine. This was a side of prohibition I hadn't ever heard of and it's shocking to believe the government was directly responsible for so many horrible deaths by poison of its citizens.
All in all a very interesting audiobook and left me wishing the story had continued past Norris's era and closer to the modern day.
I'm a mom. I have drama in my life. I don't want books with the F-bomb, nor graphic violence. I read for fun and to bring my family together. I read for reducing stress levels. We have never had a television in our home and our children are now mid twenties to 19. We listen together and look for belly-wrenching laughter. So what is it like to live without a TV? Awesomely educational and inspirational. Each new book is a marvel.
I loved listening to this book. The information was fascinating and the stories of how tests were performed, killers caught and the grind of how government work really kept my attention. I'm grateful these men worked so hard in their jobs to bring credibility, integrity and fact to the forefront. Very impressive.
The narrator and audio editor leave something of a different review. The mispronounced words, the incorrectly placed pauses and voice drops from sound editing caused me to rewind several times. Very frustrating. The name Norris should not sound like Nawrse.
This book is a fascinating look at crime and science. While it concentrates on the careers of Chief Medical Examiner Charles Norris and Toxicologist Alexander Gettler, Deborah Blum provides a very broad view of life in the early 20th century. Advances in science made life more convenient and raised the standard of living in many ways, but it also brought on a new wave of danger. Toxic chemicals were widely available for public consumption. Despite knowing the dangers, radioactive substances were sold as cures. Poisonous alcohol killed countless during Prohibition, turned even more deadly by the US government itself in a bid to enforce anti-drinking laws. It was completely possible to commit the perfect murder in the early 20th century and get away with it if you had any of the widely available poisons in your home.
Norris and Gettler, along with other scientists, politicians, and advocates, worked hard to hold those who harmed others responsible. Whether they used their work to convict a murderer, or to fight against radiation and tobacco companies, or condemned the government for purposely poisoning industrial alcohol knowing that it would be consumed, this book shows the importance of being able to hold someone accountable for their actions- whether their actions harmed one person or thousands. With lead poisoning the residents of Flint, MI today, these lessons are still relevant.
The production value of the audiobook is very high quality. There are a few mistakes either with the transcript or in the way the transcript was read. My major criticism with the performance was the use of stereotypical accents for all of the different people (for example, anything read from Gettler is in a stereotypical New York accent, there is a writing from a Texas politician read in a stereotypical southern drawl) it seemed unnecessary and a little silly.
Overall, I would recommend this book for anyone who loves to read about science, crime, or history.
This book should have been interesting, but it took me two tries to get through it.
Exciting and interesting book. The reader told the author story with great detail and intrigue. I'm not sure how we moved from radio to movies- especially since thus was only one person! Good read.
This is an intriguing mix of science, crime story, and urban politics. Perhaps one of the more amusing stories was the trial on which Double Indemnity was based. The ineptitude of the criminals, and their subsequent rancor would be hilarity if not for the death of her husband. The stories both of crime and of science, can be gruesome. Some animal studies are described fairly vividly. This is the real CSI, in an age well before computers and other wiz-bang. These were the men who created the foundations of modern forensic medicine. Was a quick read.
The writing is excellent. This story is a fascinating chapter of American History.
I'm not sure that I had a favorite character.
I agree with previous reviews in that the voices and accents are ill-fitted to the characters and the pauses and mis - pronunciations in the reading are very distracting.
No - way too much information to process all at once. Instead, one should take their time and savor it...
Do not be put off by the poor reviews of the Narration! This book is a fantastic listen!
Love to listen to and read my favorite genres.
First the good..
This book is what they call educational but entertaining. I enjoyed listening to the story line and learning the facts. It wasn't what I expected for the title, but it was great despite my misconceptions as to the content.
I learned about poisons and I learned how the poisons were detected over time. It is a true forensics novel, that follows one person, a medical examiner's efforts to prove different cases were poisonings. I learned of the tragedy brought on by prohibition, and the sad desperation of alcoholics to drink what was sometimes poured from bottles labeled poison. I heard of other deaths and how they were found to be murders via poison and how it was proven.
Cocktails were invented to disguise the taste of the poisonous rot gut being used as alcohol. Prohibition failed. There were more deaths from alcohol after prohibition started than before.
It is not a book for everyone. It is a book that recounts horrific cases of animal testing to prove or disprove how poison kills. It tells of people killed in the electric chair.
The narrator sounds bored in a few spots. I truly believe a book should have those bits edited out and replaced. Other than those spots, the narration was good, if a little slow in spots. I had to speed the reading up a quarter so the cadence was right for my ears.
The book was very focused on prohibition and the methyl alcohol. It did tie into the story but I was hoping for a little more varied topic. It was a good overall story and despite my hope for different types of poisonings being mentioned, I learned a lot from the book. I couldn't hang up my headphones once I started.
In conclusion, I love a book where I learn something and this one fits that bill. I learned much about the 1920's and I am glad I didn't live in those glamorous but scary times. The medical examiners and autopsy knowledge has come a long, long way, much in part to the one person featured in serval chapters. That man deserves a medal and a huge plaque in his honor. His heirs should be proud to be descended from his lines. He was a determined man who solved murders and worked out issues. We could use more people with that dedication and determination in life.