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Off The Shelf: The Poisoner's Handbook

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  • Off The Shelf: The Poisoner's Handbook

    Join Jonathan Menges, Jon Rees and moi as we discuss the birth of forensic medicine in New York's Jazz Age. Also includes an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning author Deborah Blum.

    Casebook: Jack the Ripper - Podcast - Off The Shelf: The Poisoner's Handbook

    Let all Oz be agreed;
    I'm Wicked through and through.

  • #2
    i like that "only the poor go to jail not the rich "
    my son said about Katie Price turning a car over on cocaine and drink and got a zoom meeting or such penalties.
    ant $ dec , the one drink and driving crash ? lol , this women is right.

    Comment


    • #3
      "This women" usually is. Thanks for listening.

      Let all Oz be agreed;
      I'm Wicked through and through.

      Comment


      • #4
        Looking forward to listening to this podcast. I read the book shortly after it was originally released and thoroughly enjoyed it. Deborah Blum is a wonderful science writer...she gets you into the story and then you realize that she is talking science. About 15 years ago, I heard a presentation by one of Dr. Gettler's later students, a recent retiree himself, and the stories were quite remarkable. I have nothing but the greatest respect for the work of Dr. Gettler and all those toxicologists who proceeded him.

        So glad that y'all decided to cover this book.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by RManny View Post
          Looking forward to listening to this podcast. I read the book shortly after it was originally released and thoroughly enjoyed it. Deborah Blum is a wonderful science writer...she gets you into the story and then you realize that she is talking science. About 15 years ago, I heard a presentation by one of Dr. Gettler's later students, a recent retiree himself, and the stories were quite remarkable. I have nothing but the greatest respect for the work of Dr. Gettler and all those toxicologists who proceeded him.

          So glad that y'all decided to cover this book.
          It was a really great book, and we enjoyed it a lot. She was great fun to talk to though all the really good bits, didn't make it into the interview. As is always the case.... the gossip is more fun than the serious book talk.

          Let all Oz be agreed;
          I'm Wicked through and through.

          Comment


          • #6
            Ally,

            I am so glad that the first question you asked Ms. Blum what inspired her to right the book. I had an opportunity to hear her speak and was unable to make due to life intruding so indelicately at the last minute. Now that I know that she considers herself a "failed chemist" I understand! She did a lovely job of explaining the science and I cannot imagine the effort that went into unearthing the history of Dr. Norris and Dr. Gettler is invaluable.

            I have listened to the podcast once on a drive to my family reunion and I do have some comments to make. I promise, my comments will be less flammable than hair exposed to a Bunsen burner.

            Richard

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            • #7
              One of the things that I wanted to comment on, or clarify has to do with something said by one of the hosts. This has to do with how and the why of the analysis of postmortem human tissues.

              When dies and they have drugs/poisons circulating in their blood and concentrated to varying degrees in different tissues of the body (fat, lung, liver, brain, vitreous humor, to name a few), it is possible to analyze those tissues to detect the drug or poison or the breakdown products of the drug or poison. Drugs and poisons are chemicals and, because they are chemicals, they have physical and chemical properties. These properties allow us to isolate the chemical from tissues and detect the presence and the amount of chemical present. But, to do this, you need some to know a few things.

              Blum did a marvelous job in clarifying that it takes time and effort to find a poison in a deceased person's body. In spite of what television and movies suggest, the process still takes time and considerable effort. Gettler, the toxicologist in The Poisoner's Handbook, was a chemist, first and foremost. He understood the chemical properties of poisons and he understood the chemical reactions that the specific poison was capable of.

              Gettler understood that to analyze for the presence of a poison, he had to separate it from the tissue that it was hiding inside. This process is called extraction and it allows you to separate a specific from a tissue. When the extraction is complete, the poison (if present) is now in the extraction fluid. Further steps are required to get the poison out of the extraction fluid, but inevitably and with care, you have the poison.

              To confirm that this substance is the poison you were looking for, you perform a specific chemical reaction on the substance to verify your that you have found a specific poison in the deceased.

              I have given only the barest bones of the process that we still do today. We have to extract the suspect chemical from the tissue, purify it, and finally confirm the presence of the poison. In some cases, the body will be so decomposed, or the concentration of the poison may be so low as to render too little of the poison for us to confirm its presence.

              I hope that this is helpful.

              Richard

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