Monday, September 15, 2008

Molecules of Murder by John Emsley (5/5 stars)

So I am chemist by trade and when I saw this book pop up on Amazon Vine I thought I would get it and give it a read. It is a fascinating book. Anyone interested in chemistry, forensics, or even poisons would find this book fascinating; you don't need a technical background.

This book covers 5 poisons found in nature and 5 man-made poisons. Each chapter is very nicely structured and goes through how the poison was discovered, how the poison affects the human body, what remedies there are, and then goes through a case study where the poison was used to murder someone. In some chapters there are sections that give statistics on the number of poisonings with a given poison and how many of these are accidental.

The only parts that might require some technical knowledge are the chemical descriptions of the poisons and how the poison reacts with the enzymes (or whatever) in the human body. Even these parts of the book are presented in such a fashion that someone without a depth of technical knowledge gets a lot out of them.

The book is very well-written. I was worried this would be more of a dry technical read but it wasn't. I was sucked in right from the beginning and had trouble putting the book down. I really, really enjoyed it.

This is not something you would want to use as a handbook for poisoning because for the majority of cases the poisons go wrong and/or the poisoners get caught. My husband did want to know exactly why I need to read a book about poisons. I told him it was in self-defense :-)

Overall a great book. I will definitely keep an eye out for more books from this author. A colleague of mine actually heard John Emsley do a talk on forensic chemistry at an American Chemical Society meeting; supposedly he is also a great speaker.

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