The Poisoner’s Handbook

I happened across an episode of American Experience, focusing on “The Poisoner’s Handbook – a fascinating book by Deborah Blum.

I’ve actually had this on my wish list for some time now, and never got around to actually getting the book. So I was delighted to be able to peek into the contents a bit, through this documentary.

The doc (and book) follow the history of New York’s first official Medical Examiner, Charles Norris, and the chief toxicologist Alexander Gettler. There are a ton of discoveries they make, and a lot of their work we now take for granted.

It was actually surprising to see the myriad ways in which one could succomb to poisoning, before their work revealed the depth of the dangers around us.

In particular, I was really quite taken with Dr. Marcella Farinelli Fierro. Every time she spoke, I was mesmerized, and kept thinking to myself: I would love to just talk to her for a few hours. And just listen to all her stories.

A particular moment from the documentary that really stood out to me, was when she said:

The medical examiner is a physician. So his relationship to the dead body is that of a doctor to a patient. That’s my patient. And he tells me what happened to him. He tells me if he has disease or injury. He often can tell me how he received it. He’s asking me to tell a story. It is very powerful. You have an obligation to the patient to get it right.

Side discovery: this is a fascinating interview with Dr. Fierro.

Sadly, the documentary is no longer available on Amazon Prime. But keep your eye out for it. This was really something amazing to watch.

The Poison Garden
Mithradates of Fond du Lac
Lily of the Valley of the Backyard

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