• The Poison Squad

  • One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
  • By: Deborah Blum
  • Narrated by: Kirsten Potter
  • Length: 11 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 09-25-18
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (79 ratings)

Regular price: $28.00

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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times notable book.

From Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times best-selling author Deborah Blum, the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change

By the end of 19th century, food was dangerous. Lethal, even. "Milk" might contain formaldehyde, most often used to embalm corpses. Decaying meat was preserved with both salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical, and borax, a compound first identified as a cleaning product. This was not by accident; food manufacturers had rushed to embrace the rise of industrial chemistry and were knowingly selling harmful products. Unchecked by government regulation, basic safety, or even labelling requirements, they put profit before the health of their customers. By some estimates, in New York City alone, thousands of children were killed by "embalmed milk" every year. Citizens - activists, journalists, scientists, and women's groups - began agitating for change. But even as protective measures were enacted in Europe, American corporations blocked even modest regulations. Then, in 1883, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemistry professor from Purdue University, was named chief chemist of the agriculture department, and the agency began methodically investigating food and drink fraud, even conducting shocking human tests on groups of young men who came to be known as, "The Poison Squad". 

Over the next 30 years, a titanic struggle took place, with the courageous and fascinating Dr. Wiley campaigning indefatigably for food safety and consumer protection. Together with a gallant cast, including the muckraking reporter Upton Sinclair, whose fiction revealed the horrific truth about the Chicago stockyards; Fannie Farmer, then the most famous cookbook author in the country; and Henry J. Heinz, one of the few food producers who actively advocated for pure food, Dr. Wiley changed history. When the landmark 1906 Food and Drug Act was finally passed, it was known across the land, as "Dr. Wiley's Law". 

Blum brings to life this timeless and hugely satisfying "David and Goliath" tale with righteous verve and style, driving home the moral imperative of confronting corporate greed and government corruption with a bracing clarity, which speaks resoundingly to the enormous social and political challenges we face today.

©2018 Deborah Blum (P)2018 Penguin Audio

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  • Overall
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If you eat you must read this book!

Deborah Blum has done an extraordinary job in gathering the history of food safety and presenting it in a clear and lively manner. If you worry about the safety of today’s food and long to return to early times, you will be shocked by just how unsafe our food used to be, and how much good FDA has done over the years.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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I learned so much!

I never knew what used to be in our food. Amazing! She does such a nice job telling the story.

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What's in your food?

This is a good lesson on politics that is germane even today. Here is the birth of the FDA. Without two things, it wouldn't have happened. The chief chemist (Dr Wiley) was the great advocate supported by a vast majority of consumers - who were vocal. The villains were big food business in cahoots with the lawmakers and the bureaucracy. You can be glad today that you don't have formaldehyde in your milk and many other things. Lessons here need to be applied to the gun laws and environmental protection. Read and learn.

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Excellent blend of history & politics

This is a very well researched book. I found it captivating from start to finish.

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worth listening to, plan to buy a copy of <br />book

really glad I listened to this book, I would like to buy a copy in large print if it is available