Nonfiction — A Taste For Poison

A Taste For Poison:  Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them by Neil Bradbury

Expected Publication Date:  February 1, 2022 by St. Martin’s Press

Four out of Five stars

For the month of October, I wanted to find some nonfiction that would tie in with my favorite holiday, Halloween.  After looking at titles involving ghost hunting, unsolved mysteries, and even witchcraft, I happened upon this one on NetGalley and I couldn’t resist.  I mean, really, what’s scarier than a tiny molecule capable of killing within seconds?!

With A Taste For Poison, my inner science geek got to hold hands with my inner true crime junkie, embarking on a dark and interesting journey.  This book is primarily science-based, with each chapter focusing on a different poison that has been used for both good and evil through the ages.  Bradbury explains the origins of each, as well as a pretty detailed account of the poison’s  effects on the human body (let me tell you, it’s not pretty!).  He breaks them down into two categories:  biomolecules (ricin, digoxin, insulin, atropine, strychnine, aconite, and cyanide) and molecules from the earth (chlorine, arsenic, polonium, and potassium round out this section).  There are historical notes as well, especially on the subject of creating accurate testing/detection methods which helped in the early prosecutions of those who thought they could get away with murder.

For those who enjoy the true crime aspect, Bradbury introduces us to various criminals who have used these poisons as their weapons of choice.  Many of the cases are much older (1800’s to early 1900’s) but there are a few from more recent times, including the man who laced several bottles of tonic water at a local grocery store with atropine just to get to his wife, and the former spy who died a terribly slow and painful death from polonium poisoning.  Compared to the scientific explanations, I found the true crime aspect to be a bit lacking at times.  Even though they were thoroughly researched and well presented, I thought some of them just didn’t rise to the same level as the scientific narratives  (or perhaps it was the case studies themselves that lacked a certain shock factor, I’m not sure).

What I enjoyed most about this book is Bradbury’s writing style.  While the information can be overwhelming at times, it is written to be easily accessed and understood by everyone.  Even with such a weighty topic, he keeps the narration on the lighter side, with some darker humor thrown in as well.  In short, if you’re like me and have an inner science geek and/or inner true crime junkie, be sure to put this book on your 2022 reading list!

Happy Halloween!  Stay safe and Happy Reading!



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