#NFBookClub The Poisoner’s Handbook Discussion Part 1

October 10, 2016 Uncategorized 2


I’ve heard from a few of you that this book was a quick read for you and I’ve found the same thing! I’m enjoying it a lot and can’t wait to hear what you all think. Here are some questions to get the discussion going.

1. How are you liking the book (the organization by poison, the way the science is written, etc)?

As you can probably tell already, I’m enjoying it a lot. I don’t think the organization is perfect. The author goes on many long tangents and not every story connects directly to the poison the chapter is about. It’s written very clearly though and with the engaging mysteries, it has been a fast, fun read for me. The science is presented in a way that seems fairly accessible to me. Something that drives me crazy though is that the author keeps describing the chemicals that make up a compound in words. I’d much rather have a picture of the compound instead or in addition.

2. What’s your favorite fun fact or story so far?

I’ve particularly been admiring Norris. After the frustration of the corruption and bad science in the first chapter, I found it very satisfying to see Norris come in and passionately work to make things better. The part where he told the mayor that he suggested they try organization, since they clearly hadn’t yet, was one of my favorites.

3. Do you check out the citations in narrative nonfiction like this? If so, did you find the citations in this book satisfactory?

I wish I did more often! In this case, I only noticed the citations at the back when I was writing this post, after reading half the book. It drives me a little crazy that there aren’t numbers in the text corresponding to the citations to alert the read to their existence. However, I typically don’t find the citations in narrative nonfiction anywhere near thorough enough. After reading scientific papers, the standards for citing things in narrative nonfiction seem bizarrely lax to me.

4. Did you know anything about early forensic science before reading this book? Did anything surprise you?

Not I. I was surprised by how recent “early forensic science” is! I was also surprised by the amount of corruption and incompetence in the criminal justice system of the time

Feel free to answer the questions or just discuss the book in the comments or to link up to a post on your own blog.

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2 Responses to “#NFBookClub The Poisoner’s Handbook Discussion Part 1”

  1. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    This was a fast read and I enjoyed it very much. The organization by poison was cute but a bit forced sometimes – it didn’t always match the contents. I didn’t find this an issue though.

    One of the most eye-opening things for me was the rampant use of poisonous wood alcohol during Prohibition. I find this hard to understand – both that people would drink such awful stuff and that there wasn’t more of an effort to stop it. I was also surprised by how recently forensic science was developed.

    As a non-chemist, my eyes tended to glaze over during the sections describing various compounds and I didn’t get anything out of those. I think some visuals would have helped me there.

    I can see your point about the citations. I was reading an e-book, which means I can’t flip back and forth to the endnotes, so in that case I generally ignore them, which is a pity.

    • DoingDewey

      I’ve finished this now and by the end, I was a little impressed the author managed to organize by poison and stay chronological, but I agree that was bit forced at times. I couldn’t believe the use of wood alcohol either! I like a drink now and then, but I would give it up in a heartbeat if the chances of it killing or blinding me were so high.

      I would have loved some pictures of the compounds and even though I have a bit of chemistry in my background, I didn’t feel like the verbal descriptions of the poisons added a whole lot.

      I wish I checked out citations more often, but without in-text references to them, I find it hard! I might try to do more checking out the end of books before I read them in the future. I often miss cast-lists and glossaries, as well as citations.

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