Publication Date: 13/07/2006 ISBN: 9780192806000 Category:

The Elements of Murder

John Emsley

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 13/07/2006 ISBN: 9780192806000 Category:
Paperback / Softback




This book is about elements that kill. Mercury, arsenic, antimony, lead, and thallium can be lethal, as many a poisoner knew too well. Emsley explores the gruesome history of these elements and those who have succumbed to them in a fascinating narrative that weaves together stories of true crime, enduring historical mysteries, tragic accidents, and the science behind it all. The colourful cast includes ancient alchemists, kings, leaders, a pope, several great
musicians, and a motley crew of murderers. Among the intriguing accounts is that of the 17th century poet Sir Thomas Overbury, who survived four attempts to poison him with mercury but died when given the poison in enema form – under whose direction remains uncertain. Here, too, is detailed the celebrated
case of Florence Maybrick, convicted of poisoning her violent husband James with arsenic, but widely believed at the time to be innocent. The question of her guilt is still disputed.

Threaded through the book alongside the history is the growing understanding of chemistry, and the effects of different chemical substances on the human body. Thousands suffered the ill effects of poisonous vapours from mercury, lead, and arsenic before the dangers were realized. Hatters went mad because of mercury poisoning, and hundreds of young girls working in factories manufacturing wallpaper in the 19th century were poisoned by the arsenic-based green pigments used for the leaves of the
popular floral designs. Even in the middle of the 20th century, accidental mercury poisoning caused many deaths in Minamata Bay, while leaded petrol poisoned the whole planet, and arsenic still continues to poison millions is Asia.

Through vividly told stories of innocent blunders, industrial accidents, poisoners of various hues – cold, cunning, desperate – and deaths that remain a mystery, Emsley here uncovers the dark side of the Periodic Table.

Publisher Review

Review from previous edition A readable anecdotal history of killing. This book will be enjoyed by those who like good detective stories, intriguing snippets of history, popular science and murder most foul. * Chemistry World * ...authoritative and meticulously researched... Emsley knows what he is talking about. This is a lovely book. * Roger P Smith, Nature Vol 436 * A delightful potion of chemical erudition, forgotten science history and ghastly murder schemes Along the way, the bodies pile up as Emsley relates spectacular case histories of poisonings, accidental and criminal...Reading ''The Elements of Murder'' is like watching a hundred episodes of ''CSI,'' but without having to sit through the tedious personal relationships of the characters. * New York Times Book Review * ...fascinating, wide-ranging and, let's not mince words, macabre new history of poison...a truly guilty pleasure Fascinating brew of academic research and titilating murder mysteries...vivid and anecdotal history of poison * Daily Mail * He describes the chemistry with a light touch that makes the book accessible to non-chemists and, indeed, non-scientists. There is much here to fascinate a broad readership. * THES * a fascinating ancedotal history of killing. With something of interest on almost every page, it combines the satisfaction of a detective story, intriguing snippets of history, popular science, unsolved mysteries and murder. A powerful brew. * Telegraph * Meticulously researched, this book reads like a novel and a reader could pick up enough colourful anecdotes on which to dine out some time. Just be careful what, or whom, you eat. * Lancet * Meticulously researched, this book reads like a novel and a reader could pick up enough colourful anecdotes on which to dine out for some time. * The Lancet * Endlessly fascinating book...Every page reveals delights and horrors...It is the perfect book to take on a long-haul flight * Telegraph * The Elements of Murder is full of such intriguing nuggets...Emsley must have been an outstanding chemistry teacher.

Book experts at your service

What are you looking for?

A recommendation
Something specific
  • Mr B's Recommendation Station
  • Fill in the three questions below, along with your name and email address, and our book experts will be in touch soon with their personal recommendations

  • I'm after something specific
  • Tell us about the book, author or subject you're looking for, along with your name and email address and our book experts will be in touch as soon as possible