Tag Archives: good read

Book Review – Elements of Murder

The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison

John Emsley

Hardcover: 436 pages

Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st Edition edition (28 April 2005)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0641823894

ISBN-13: 978-0641823893

It has everything I want from a book – science, history and murder. It’s not a book everyone would enjoy but to geeks like me it’s fascinating to know that a broken thermometer played a part in the development of photography. I’m also intrigued to find that Pope Alexander VI  was poisoned in 1503 after dining with his son (well, they were Borgias), and that “perpetual pills” were made from antimony. When swallowed, they would pass through the gut, and irritate the gut into clearing itself out. They would then be retrieved, washed and used again. I’m not surprised their use has died out. I still shudder at the thought of what happened when I swallowed one of my gold crowns.

If you prefer environmentalism to murder you can read it as a book on the damage done to humans, fish and the atmosphere, with examples from history and from modern times.

If science is your thing, there is plenty available, possibly too much.

The book covers the poisons Mercury, Arsenic, Antimony, Lead, Thallium and “Other poisonous elements”. There are other poisons available, but these are the ones in the book – the clue is in the word “element” in the title. If you want a book on poisons in general you need a different book. If, for instance, you were interested in general poisons  (and I am making no judgement here) you may be better with a book on plants.

It’s not an easy read because the detail is quite dense, and you have to concentrate, but it is interesting and informative.

I won’t lie, it’s patchy, and there are slow bits because some of the poisoning cases are well known (like Napoleon’s death by wallpaper) and because the science sometimes goes on a bit, but I like the history and there are hundreds of items of trivia to be gleaned from a reading of the book. I’m not going to criticise a book just because of my inability to process science writing.

It’s going back on the shelf for now, but after leafing through it for examples of trivia, I’ll be reading it again soon.

 

 

 

Book Review: Free Country

Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain

by George Mahood

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (18 Dec. 2014)

Paperback 352pp    Paperback £8.99     Kindle £1.99

ISBN-13: 978-1490356662

I’ve read a few books of his sort (which I think of as novelty travel, or even annoying novelty travel) and have mixed feelings about the genre.  Is it really necessary to do more than travel and write entertainingly? Do you need to take a fridge with you, or in this case, do you need to start off in your pants and beg your way the length of the country? Not that it really matters, because charity shops are full of these books and they rarely cost more than £1.50. At that price I can adapt to most things.

Part of the problem is that everything seems to fall into place so easily, finding footwear before doing any serious damage to their feet for instance, and the other is that a lot of the stuff they are given is the result of theft. They may be amazed at the generosity of staff in large chains, but actually, that’s theft. Same goes for the employees of smaller establishments who give them free drink or food while the boss is away – theft.

George Mahood thinks the penniless journey is a demonstration of the basic decency of human beings who are selflessly prepared to help two idiots on their way from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.

I think it’s about finding a gimmick to base a book on.

It’s beginning to sound like I don’t like the book, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a good book, with well-observed characters, warmth, moments of peril, light and shade and humour. I did follow them with bated breath, I did worry about them, and I was rooting for them, despite my moral misgivings.

It was a birthday present from Number One son and arrived in the post whilst I was in the grip of several different infections (the advancing years are not being kind), so I left it for a week before picking it up.

Once I started it I finished it in two sessions and was really sorry to reach the end.

Judged from a moral standpoint – theft, begging, fecklessness and having defective brakes – it’s hard to give it more than three stars, but from a reading point of view it’s a massive five.