A Taste for Poison

Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them

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Pub Date 01 Feb 2022 | Archive Date 08 Feb 2022

Description

“A fascinating tale of poisons and poisonous deeds which both educates and entertains.” --Kathy Reichs

A brilliant blend of science and crime, A TASTE FOR POISON reveals how eleven notorious poisons affect the body--through the murders in which they were used.

As any reader of murder mysteries can tell you, poison is one of the most enduring—and popular—weapons of choice for a scheming murderer. It can be slipped into a drink, smeared onto the tip of an arrow or the handle of a door, even filtered through the air we breathe. But how exactly do these poisons work to break our bodies down, and what can we learn from the damage they inflict?

In a fascinating blend of popular science, medical history, and true crime, Dr. Neil Bradbury explores this most morbidly captivating method of murder from a cellular level. Alongside real-life accounts of murderers and their crimes—some notorious, some forgotten, some still unsolved—are the equally compelling stories of the poisons involved: eleven molecules of death that work their way through the human body and, paradoxically, illuminate the way in which our bodies function.

Drawn from historical records and current news headlines, A Taste for Poison weaves together the tales of spurned lovers, shady scientists, medical professionals and political assassins to show how the precise systems of the body can be impaired to lethal effect through the use of poison. From the deadly origins of the gin & tonic cocktail to the arsenic-laced wallpaper in Napoleon’s bedroom, A Taste for Poison leads readers on a riveting tour of the intricate, complex systems that keep us alive—or don’t.

“A fascinating tale of poisons and poisonous deeds which both educates and entertains.” --Kathy Reichs

A brilliant blend of science and crime, A TASTE FOR POISON reveals how eleven notorious poisons...


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Featured Reviews

Fascinating and darkly delightful. A recommended first purchase for collections where true-crime and forensic titles are popular.

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Date reviewed/posted: March 12, 2021 Publication date: October 19th, 2021 When life for the entire galaxy and planet has turned on its end, you are continuing to #maskup and #lockdown to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #secondwave ( #thirdwave ?)is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. As any reader of murder mysteries can tell you, poison is one of the most enduring—and popular—weapons of choice for a scheming murderer. It can be slipped into a drink, smeared onto the tip of an arrow or the handle of a door, even filtered through the air we breathe. But how exactly do these poisons work to break our bodies down, and what can we learn from the damage they inflict? In a fascinating blend of popular science, medical history, and true crime, Dr. Neil Bradbury explores this most morbidly captivating method of murder from a cellular level. Alongside real-life accounts of murderers and their crimes—some notorious, some forgotten, some still unsolved—are the equally compelling stories of the poisons involved: eleven molecules of death that work their way through the human body and, paradoxically, illuminate the way in which our bodies function. Drawn from historical records and current news headlines, A Taste for Poison weaves together the tales of spurned lovers, shady scientists, medical professionals and political assassins to show how the precise systems of the body can be impaired to lethal effect through the use of poison. From the deadly origins of the gin & tonic cocktail to the arsenic-laced wallpaper in Napoleon’s bedroom, A Taste for Poison leads readers on a fascinating tour of the intricate, complex systems that keep us alive—or don’t. If I show up dead, blame my husband as he all but ripped this book from my hands......ditto if I am dead as I told him last week that two cherry pits have enough arsenic to kill a person. I freaking loved this book - it was so interesting and I had not heard of most of the stories in this book. This is NOT a casual read but it is one that I will recommend to patrons and book clubs that are in search of a different but excellent book. It is deftly crafted and at no time did my attention ever waver --- that says A LOT! As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I simply adore emojis (outside of their incessant use by "🙏-ed Social Influencer Millennials/#BachelorNation survivors/Tik-Tok and YouTube Millionaires/snowflakes / literally-like-overusers etc. " on Instagram and Twitter... Get a real job, people!) so let's give it ⚰  ⚰  ⚰  ⚰  ⚰

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It’s rare to find a book that gets it a 100% right in all accounts but let me tell you this one is just that. It covers all basis. True crime. Murder mystery. Scientific sourced information. An author that can keep you enthralled and entertained. I can’t sing this books praises loud enough. This book makes my morbid little heart full with glee (or arsenic).

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Such a fascinating and captivating book. It is well written and easy to follow. Very informative and one I will be purchasing in hardcover once available. The author is very detailed and it shows in the excellent descriptions. I truly enjoyed reading A Taste for Poison. Great work!

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I received this book for an honest review from that galley #netgalley This is a great non-fiction book I've always been fascinated by poisons and the people that use them as a history major especially. you can tell that this book went into great detail and I really appreciate that.

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Overall I really enjoyed my time reading this book! I, like I'm sure many people, have a fascination with poisons and their history and this was a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read. In TASTE OF POISON, we get a deep dive into a different poison each chapter. We learn about the history, the naming, one or two cases of poisoning linked to the chapter's specific poison, and how, scientifically, the poison interacts with the body, making it so deadly. I found the balance between historical context, murder/trial, and chemistry to be really well done, and it kept the book moving at fun pace. I don't necessarily process scientific information super well, but it was done in such a way that was really digestible and accessible. I would say the strength really lies in the connection of historical context. I had a lot of lightbulb moments reading the book and was constantly highlighting fun-facts to recall later on. From how things were named, and learning of the prevalence of poisons in building history and meaning into what we still know and do today- the dilating of eyes from belladonna still being used today in low lighting in restaurants was a particularly fun fun-fact. My main critique of this book is that I think it needs a sensitivity read. There are some outdated words, ideas, and ingrained beliefs from the author that pop up throughout the book, and I think it detracts from overall spirit of the book. Thank you to Neil Bradbury and St Martin's Press for an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Thank you to NetGalley, the author and publisher for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion of this book. First, I will say if my science teachers back in high school spoke and explained things the way this author does I would be so much more interested in science than I was and who knows where that might have taken me! This author does a wonderful job of explaining each poison, its history, what its medical benefits are (when used properly) and how it effects the body in both a positive and negative way. He also provides stories of misuse of the poison. I found myself Googling each case after I read that section to find out even more. The book is well paced and you will not get overload from too much science. A great read for any True Crime Lover as well as those interested in history!

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This was definitely a different spin on “true crime.” It was super interesting to read about different poisons and how they have been used throughout history.

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Neil Bradbury writes in 'crime noir' fashion a book at the intersection of medical science, criminal history and classic literature. With his dark humor, he keeps the story of 11 ways to poison someone connected to the 11 ways poisons work and criminal investigators likely catch you if you would be so foolish to put to use his teachings. It is a fun and interesting ride, each chapter loosely connected to the previous, but still independent enough to read in sections or in one go on a plane ride across the nation.

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This book is filled with some fascinating stories about past poisoners and the various substances they used. It also goes deep into detail about how the substances work and affect the body which, while interesting, became a little tedious at times. I was amazed by how one such substance was able to be used to try and kill someone in one instance, and to try to hide the use of poison in another. And then it was used as an antidote to a poison in the 3rd situation! You can’t get more versatile than that. It always amazes me how people come up with so many ways to try and kill one another, and poison is one of the most sneaky and sinister. It’s a good thing that science has gotten so much better at detecting it in recent years, but it still takes someone who thinks to look for it first, in most cases. A satisfying read, overall. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Neil Bradbury, and the publisher.

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A Taste for Poison by Neil Bradbury is a well written and meticulously researched history of the favored poisons used throughout the centuries. Beginning with arsenic, that old favorite, to polonium, the history. Arsenic has long been a favorite, but was made more popular as a favored weapon of the Borgias. Although the recipe has been lost, cantarella was frequently used, as was Aqua Tofana. Believed to be a mixture of arsenic, lead, and belladonna, cantarella was so precise that it could be considered time release. Then there's polonium, arguably the most expensive poison in the world. After all, doesn't everyone have a bit of refined uranium lying around. I would highly recommend this title to anyone interested in the history of poison. In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free digital copy of this title to review from Net Galley. #ATasteForPoison#NetGalley

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A Taste for Poison by Neil Bradbury is a superb read with a well defined plot and characters. Well worth the read!

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Neil Bradbury shares his knowledge of poisons utilized in murders, both real and literary. The book is a well-paced journey through 11 poisons utilized for nefarious ends but in the laboratory contribute to an understanding of our physiology. There is enough science to help the true crime lover to understand how poisons kill the victims in their favorite murder mysteries. The book is a very worthwhile read!

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What a fascinating book this is! With an engaging mix of stories about the uses of the eponymous poisons as well as background into their origins and mechanisms of action, Bradbury has crafted a book that proves fact is often stranger than fiction. His writing style is conversational and easy to fall into, whether focusing on the poisonings or the poisons.

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Amid the increasingly crowded field of popular literature about poisons and poisoning, what distinguishes Dr. Bradbury’s effort to create narrative portraits of eleven deadly molecules (and the killers who used them)? First of all, the author succeeds as a storyteller. With typical British wit, Dr. Bradbury draws the reader into his tales about deadly molecules by recounting different murder mysteries, each of which involves a poison of one sort or the other. He realizes the power of stories to intrigue and to captivate, and to compel us to know more about the pathophysiological actions of these toxic agents. Secondly, Dr. Bradbury is an educator who realizes these stories are not just entertaining tales about crime. Instead, they are case studies or stories to educate. As he indicates, “this book…explores the nature of poisons and how they affect the body at the molecular, cellular and physiological level.” To fashion these tales into case studies, he stitches together narratives of criminal action and psychology, anecdotes from the history of science, courtroom testimony and drama, descriptions of pathophysiology and cell biology, and bits of medicinal chemistry. In doing so, he creates multidimensional portraits of eleven molecules that have become recognized poisons in the hands of infamous murderers. As a result, Dr. Bradbury is eager to share how these case studies illuminate key tenets of pharmacology and toxicology. One of the recurring themes of the book is that the line between the use of molecules as therapeutic agents or poisons has been crossed in both directions over the history of medicine and crime. For example, digoxin and insulin were first isolated and utilized as medicinals, and later used in their purified forms as poisons. On the other hand, both atropine and ricin were first exploited as poisons before their beneficial uses were employed by the biomedical community. Dr. Bradbury’s accounting of the same molecule as therapeutic and toxic well illustrates Paracelsus’ dictum “it is the dose that makes the poison”. As every pharmacologist, toxicologist and clinician recognizes, pharmacological agents can have beneficial actions at lower doses and toxic effects at higher concentrations. Reflecting a desire for the ordinary person to learn important pharmacological and physiological principles, Dr. Bradbury draws back the sometimes dense and complex curtain of scientific concepts, and shows how these molecules exert their life-giving and deadly effects in ways that all can understand. With clarity and simplicity, he can’t help but convince us that a practical understanding of physiology, pharmacology, and toxicology matters to our everyday lives. Finally, the book shows that bioactive molecules have power to be used for great good or for great evil. Employed benevolently, they can act as important tools for scientific discovery and medical practice in the hands of well-meaning scientists and clinicians. Yet the same molecules have power to transform healthy physiology into pathophysiology, and ultimately cause death, in the hands of those would work them for malevolent purposes.

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This book takes an in-depth look at a variety of poisons -- how they work, their therapeutic vs. criminal uses, how they react in the body, how they were discovered, etc. Every poison profiled is also connected to criminal cases, some historical and some more recent. A disturbing number of the crimes discussed were carried out by members of the medical profession. Until relatively recent times, most poisoners were able to go about their deadly work without fear of being detected, since the scientific community had no way to distinguish a death from poison from a death due to diseases which were common at the same time. The author does a wonderful job of explaining how each individual poison causes death. Even so, the explanations at times were a bit difficult to follow. Still, it was very interesting to read about how the body reacts, both outwardly in terms of symptoms, as well as the cellular process that is occurring within the body. The criminal cases discussed were also fascinating. It was quite disturbing to read how an early way to detect poison was for investigators to "taste test" various bodily fluids and tissues to determine if poison was present. If that were still the case today, I'm sure more poisoners would be able to get away with murder! The book ends with a helpful section called "Pick Your Poison" where each poison is discussed in terms of how it is administered, what the poison does to the body, symptoms observed after ingestion, lethal amount needed, and antidote (if any). I highly enjoyed reading about all the various poisons, and especially all the historical information surrounding each one.

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I can't get enough of books about poisons and weird medical "cures," and this was a solid entry in the subgenre. I liked the clear organization of it. I will suggest this for purchase for the library collection, and have already recommended it to people.

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The skillful melding of medical and cultural history in Neil Bradbury’s engrossing A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them will appeal to lovers of history, mystery, and true crime. The author’s detailed accounts of how eleven historically significant poisons work appear along with accounts of how, when and why these deadly substances were used in cases both well- and little-known. Lovers of history, medical and scientific lore, mystery fiction and true crime among others will appreciate Bradbury's lively expert treatment poisons and what might be called the poisoner's art.

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Simply delicious! As a retired medical transcriptionist, I found this book to be absolutely delightful. Even without a medical terminology background, one would find this book full of interesting tidbits and stories about poison I would find fascinating. Easy to read and enjoyable. I would definitely recommend this book! I received an e-book from NetGalley in return for an unbiased review.

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This book was a fascinating insight into the science behind and effects of many different common (and not so common) poisons. The interweaving of the science and stories about attempted and successful poisonings throughout history was very well done. I did, however, find myself bogged down in some of the science despite trying as I might to understand it as a layman. That being said, science was never my forte in school, so I was not surprised to get a little lost. The author is clearly well versed in the subject and has done an astounding amount of research that is presented in the clearest way possible. The stories were engaging and I enjoyed my reading experience. Many thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for allowing me access to this advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Neil Bradbury seamlessly weaves together the cat-and-mouse story of poisoner and investigator with the molecular explanations for poisons, and the medical history of these mysterious, alluring substances. He finds new and fascinating stories about the ways people have used medicines and toxins to harm each other as well as the human motivations behind such actions. Bradbury describes paradigm-shifting concepts as well as Gould, gives illustrative anecdotes as well as Gladwell, and provides apt metaphor like Hawking. I only wish he had been my toxicology instructor in grad school!

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I have seen Dr. Bradbury give a talk about Cystic Fibrosis and have even been lucky enough to hear him present on the poisons that he writes about in A Taste for Poison. He did such a wonderful job explaining everything during the talks that I was concerned that the book could not match the same level of enthusiasm and educational utility. I am happy to inform you all that I was wrong. Even though I have a decent background in science and currently teach about the human body, I think this book is accessible to a wide range of readers. There is a perfect mix of science and dark history to not only inform the reader but to keep them interested as well. Dr. Bradbury does a fantastic job of setting the scene for how each molecule was utilized in a nefarious manner but also intertwines the medical properties for the individual molecules. I would recommend this book for readers who are interested in murder mysteries, medical history, or those who are just looking to appreciate how complex our body really is. It was easy to read, difficult to put down, and left me wanting more when I reached the end of the book.

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YES! Finally - I have been waiting for a book like this. I am a huge nerd when it comes to chemistry, true crime, and microbiology. This was a dream come true book. I am always on the hunt for new material to read regarding medical history. This is not an intimidating book by any means- so don't be fooled by the words molecules and chemistry in the synopsis of the book. The author did such a fine job balancing everything-from the science aspect to the crimes themselves. This is one heck of a fascinating book. This was a very enjoyable read- and will be picking up a copy for myself to transfer over my notes and all the highlighting I've done in my kindle. Thank you to Neil Bradbury and St Martin's Press for an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Such a wonderful cookbook! I simply can't wait to try out these recipes at my next dinner party! I'm just kidding. In all seriousness' do not use this book as a way to spice up your home cooked meals. This is however, a wonderful book that gives you an up close and personal look at some really interesting poisons.

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Poisoning is perhaps the most discrete manner in which to murder someone. Judicious choice of toxic agent provides the poisoner with a number of potentially useful options: do you need to make a getaway, in which case poisons can be chosen that will not exert their dreadful effect until you are far from the crime scene, or potentially even days after you have left the country; was the perceived slight so great that you want your victim to suffer unduly, thereby incorporating a fearsome added element to the process; do you want your toxin to be untraceable, therefore causing your victim’s demise to be put down to natural causes or misadventure? Further, you can also deliver the poisonous agent at a remote distance; the arrival of an unsolicited box of chocolates should always be treated with suspicion. These methods and their perpetrators are admirably described in Neil Bradbury’s “A Taste for Poison”, published by St. Martin’s Press. Examples of poisoning for profit, love, revenge or power have been known since early times and while some of the cases have been previously described, some will undoubtedly be unfamiliar even to aficionados of the true crime genre. However, what differentiates this entertaining little book from other similar accounts, is the accompanying explanation of how these agents wreak their terrible damage on the cells and organs of the body. Drawing on his academic background, Dr. Bradbury explains the biochemical and physiological mechanisms of how poisons kill, even if only minute quantities are absorbed. The scientific details are accurate, concise and easily readable – you will not need to have aced Chem 101 in order to be able to appreciate the mechanisms underlying the effectiveness of the agent being described. Additionally, the author makes an important point that is frequently overlooked; many poisons can have valid therapeutic effects, only becoming toxic at high concentrations or in particular situations; after all even water is toxic if too much is ingested. Details of toxic doses, methods of administration, and biological/chemical source are provided in an appendix. However, this is not an instruction manual for the would-be poisoner; fortunately the author has also included periodic asides on the development of forensic detection methods that will, (one hopes!), reassure the reader that the chances of a poison being detected and traced back to the poisoner are now much greater than they were even 20 years ago. Overall, for those interested in the history of poisons, murder and the science behind the madness, this will be a diverting and engaging read.

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I absolutely loved this informative true crime book based on poison. Is divided into chapters based on the type of poisoning and a crime committed with it. There are also several references in the book to crimes created in fiction books.

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Bradbury uses a breezy writing style to tell about poisons used to kill. Interspersed in each section is a narrative of someone who has killed or been killed with the poison being discussed as well as information on the poison, where it comes from, how it is made and what effect it has on the body. Many of these poisons have extremely gruesome effects on the body, so be prepared to be grossed out. The stories Bradbury has chosen to tell caught my interest and in more than one case, i felt the need to look up more on the victim or the killer. What does it say about me that I loved this book?

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I didn't initially enjoy this book as much as I expected to since I obviously did not read the description very carefully. I was expecting a mystery with poison as the killer's choice. This is not a fictional novel. After reading more of the reviews from others and moving along with learning more about novel-writing, I realized what a wonderful "RESEARCH' opportunity this book provides. If you're a mystery writer and you need to choose your poison, this is your book. Poison Choices were provided with brief descriptions of fictional stories which utilized this choice along with the chemical properties and details of death. At this point in my writing career, this is the perfect choice.

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This enchanting book covers the most famous poisons in history. Dr. Bradbury has crafted stories about each poison with a historical perspective of infamous crimes, details the poison’s development and mode of action in scientific laymen’s terms, and with a spark of wry humor. This is a highly recommended read for those with an inquisitive mind and a penchant for the dark arts. Lane L Clarke, D.V.M., PhD.

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4.5 stars A Taste for Poison by Neil Bradbury, Ph.D. A fascinating book that immerses the reader into an in-depth look at poisons and how they have been used through the years to commit murder. Prior to reading this book, I had not heard of most of these crimes. It was quite interesting how old some of these murders were, it is easy to forget that murder is not something of just the last century but is as old as man himself. I highly recommend this book. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley.

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As a hospital pharmacist, I found this book very intriguing and easy to read. It is an entertaining mixture of crime, history and pharmacology. Each poison is presented with a nice balance of physiologic description, nefarious uses, and current knowledge and practical utilization of the chemical. I highly recommend "A Taste for Poison".

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This was such a cool book! Every now and then I need a break from thrillers and horrors, and I’ll usually grab a non-fiction as a palate cleanser. I’ve had my eye on this one for awhile and I was lucky to get an Advanced Read Copy so I didn’t have to wait long… I really liked this one. Informative and interesting are two great qualities, and this book was both. I learned a lot of fun facts, like insulin was once used to control schizophrenia (by putting patients into a coma), or that so many things were once used as both medicine and poison, with the doses between the two being way too close for comfort. The eleven poisons examined are aconite, arsenic, atropine, chlorine, cyanide, digoxin, insulin, polonium, potassium, ricin and strychnine. You’ll get the chemical breakdown, history and other uses for each - and you’ll also get examples of times these substances were used to kill. History, science and true-crime all in one; this book is a triple threat! I’m giving this 4.5 stars rounded down because it got a bit dry in spots, but it was still a great “infotainment” book. If you like any of the above-mentioned genres, I’d recommend this one to you! (Thank you to the publisher, author and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my review.)

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This was an interesting book describing the most used poisons for homicide! well written and intriguing, I enjoyed it!

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