The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison

OUP Oxford
3
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This book is about elements that kill. Mercury, arsenic, antimony, lead, and thallium can be lethal, as many a poisoner knew too well. Emsley explores the gruesome history of these elements and those who have succumbed to them in a fascinating narrative that weaves together stories of true crime, enduring historical mysteries, tragic accidents, and the science behind it all. The colourful cast includes ancient alchemists, kings, leaders, a pope, several great musicians, and a motley crew of murderers. Among the intriguing accounts is that of the 17th century poet Sir Thomas Overbury, who survived four attempts to poison him with mercury but died when given the poison in enema form - under whose direction remains uncertain. Here, too, is detailed the celebrated case of Florence Maybrick, convicted of poisoning her violent husband James with arsenic, but widely believed at the time to be innocent. The question of her guilt is still disputed. Threaded through the book alongside the history is the growing understanding of chemistry, and the effects of different chemical substances on the human body. Thousands suffered the ill effects of poisonous vapours from mercury, lead, and arsenic before the dangers were realized. Hatters went mad because of mercury poisoning, and hundreds of young girls working in factories manufacturing wallpaper in the 19th century were poisoned by the arsenic-based green pigments used for the leaves of the popular floral designs. Even in the middle of the 20th century, accidental mercury poisoning caused many deaths in Minamata Bay, while leaded petrol poisoned the whole planet, and arsenic still continues to poison millions is Asia. Through vividly told stories of innocent blunders, industrial accidents, poisoners of various hues - cold, cunning, desperate - and deaths that remain a mystery, Emsley here uncovers the dark side of the Periodic Table.
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About the author

John Emsley won the Science Book prize in 1995 for his Consumer's Good Chemical Guide, and followed this with a series of popular science books: Molecules at an Exhibition, Was it Something You Ate? (co-authored with Peter Fell), The Shocking History of Phosphorus, Nature's Building Blocks, and Vanity, Vitality, and Virility, all of which have been translated worldwide. John spent 20 years as a researcher and lecturer in chemistry at London University before becoming a freelance popular-science writer and a Science Writer in Residence, first at Imperial College London and then in the Chemistry Department of the University of Cambridge. In 2003 he was awarded the German Chemical Society's Writer's Award.
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Additional Information

Publisher
OUP Oxford
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Published on
Apr 28, 2005
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Pages
436
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ISBN
9780191501203
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Language
English
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Genres
Health & Fitness / General
Law / Forensic Science
Science / Chemistry / General
Science / Chemistry / Industrial & Technical
Science / Chemistry / Toxicology
Science / General
Science / History
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
Technology & Engineering / Environmental / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Molecules of Murder is about infamous murderers and famous victims; about people like Harold Shipman, Alexander Litvinenko, Adelaide Bartlett, and Georgi Markov. Few books on poisons analyse these crimes from the viewpoint of the poison itself, doing so throws a new light on how the murders or attempted murders were carried out and ultimately how the perpetrators were uncovered and brought to justice. Part I includes molecules which occur naturally and were originally used by doctors before becoming notorious as murder weapons. Part II deals with unnatural molecules, mainly man-made, and they too have been dangerously misused in famous crimes. The book ends with the most famous poisoning case in recent years, that of Alexander Litvinenko and his death from polonium chloride. The first half of each chapter starts by looking at the target molecule itself, its discovery, its history, its chemistry, its use in medicine, its toxicology, and its effects on the human body. The second half then investigates a famous murder case and reveals the modus operandi of the poisoner and how some were caught, some are still at large, and some literally got away with murder. Molecules of Murder will explain how forensic chemists have developed cunning ways to detect minute traces of dangerous substances, and explain why some of these poisons, which appear so life-threatening, are now being researched as possible life-savers. Award winning science writer John Emsley has assembled another group of true crime and chemistry stories to rival those of his highly acclaimed Elements of Murder.
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