John Emsley

The elements of murder

The poisonous nature of heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead is well known. In this book John Emsley examines how such elements have affected us, looking at their occurence in the environment, the danger they pose in industry and their use as medicines (where they poison the organisms which attack us). As such it is very informative, looking at the history of the elements, the symptoms they produce and their toxicity in organic and inorganic forms. But most of all it is about the use of these elements by murderers. If you enjoy a good murder story then you should certainly try this book.

I was surprised at how long it took to catch some of the murderers and I'm glad that modern procedures are much better at identifying these poisons.

I found that this book takes a bit of getting into - its a long book, and murders which would merit a few pages elsewhere get a whole chapter here. However, once you accept this then you should find it an enjoyable read.

There is also speculation on how some well know people may have been affected by these poisons. Newton probably suffered from mercury poisoning due his alchemical studies. The madness of King George could have been caused by lead in his wine, and the antimony in Mozart's medicines probably killed him.

Product Description
Was Napoleon killed by the arsenic in his wallpaper? How did Rasputin survive cyanide poisoning? Which chemicals in our environment pose the biggest threat to our health today?
In The Elements of Murder, John Emsley offers a fascinating account of five of the most toxic elements--arsenic, antimony, lead, mercury, and thallium--describing their lethal chemical properties and highlighting their use in some of the most famous murder cases in history. Indeed, we meet in this book a who's who of heartless murderers. Mary Ann Cotton, who used arsenic to murder her mother, three husbands, a lover, eight of her own children, and seven step children, a grand total of 20 people. Michael Swango, who may have killed as many as 60 of his patients and several of his colleagues during the 20 years he practiced as a doctor and paramedic. And even Saddam Hussein, who used thallium sulfate to poison his political rivals. Emsley also shows which toxic elements may have been behind the madness of King George III (almost certainly a case of acute lead poisoning), the delusions of Isaac Newton, and the strange death of King Charles II. In addition, the book examines many modern day environmental catastrophes, including accidental mass poisoning from lead and arsenic, and the Minamata Bay disaster in Japan.
Written by a leading science writer, famous for his knowledge of the elements and their curious and colorful histories, The Elements of Murder offers an enticing combination of true crime tales and curious science that adds up to an addictive read.