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review 2019-10-24 00:43
Book Review: A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Book: A is for Arsenic, The Poisons of Agatha Christie


Author: Kathryn Harkup


Genre: Non-Fiction/Chemistry/Murder/True Crime/Mystery


Summary: Agatha Christie reveled in the use of poison to kill off unfortunate victims in her books; indeed, she employed it more than any other murder method, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random - the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but this is not the case with poisons. How is it that some compounds prove so deadly, and in such tiny amounts? Christie's extensive chemical knowledge provides the backdrop for A is for Arsenic, in which Kathryn Harkup investigates the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen classic Agatha Christie mysteries. It looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, the cases that may have inspired Christie, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons, both at the time the novel was written and today. A is for Arsenic is a celebration of the use of science by the undisputed Queen of Crime. -Bloomsbury Sigma, 2015.

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text 2019-04-28 16:10
Mini-Reviews: Recent Non-Fiction Reads
The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England - Dan Jones
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century - Kirk Wallace Johnson

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones


Why should I read a story of made-up kings and queens, when the real deal can be so entertaining and interesting? With the Plantagenets, you get it all. Fearsome warriors, good kings, mad kings, bad-ass queens, treasonous children, politics, intrigue and everything else, you can possible think of.


Dan Jones has taken 280 years English history and has done the almost impossible: he has made history accessible in an entertaining way. At some point I became so immersed in the book, I just kept turning the pages.


An incredibly read and a book that I can highly recommend to anyone, who is interested in history.


A is for Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup


The premise of this book is right up my street. Chemistry and Agatha Christie in one book … consider me a happy reader. And I really enjoyed this book, even though it hasn´t been a perfect read for me.


My favorite part of the book has been Harkup´s descriptions of famous poison murders in history. I was totally engrossed whenever I reached that part of a chapter.


I found some parts of the book to be repetitive, especially when she explains the effect of plant-based alkaloids on neurons. She could have described the effects once in a clear manner, maybe with a decent painting of a neuron (a visual aid helps a lot when it comes to the workings of a neuron), and then she could have made a reference back to that passage.  And at times she is a bit too spoilery for my taste. Which is why is skipped two of the chapters, because I haven´t read the accompanying books.


Defnitely a book I would recommend for the Christie, chemistry and/or poisons enthusiasts out there.


The Feather-Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson


I know, I have gushed a lot about this book. But here it comes again. This is an excellent piece of non-fiction, with a completely whacky premise. And yet the premise isn´t so whacky after all.


This book is about the hobby of fly-tying, which is bordering on obsession for some people, the history behind this hobby and the history behind the mad quest for beautiful birds and feathers. This book is engrossing, captivating, infuriating, informative and simply an excellent read. I actually loved those fly-tying guys toward the end.


Highly recommended.   

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text 2019-04-21 14:47
Reading progress update: I've read 169 out of 320 pages.
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Wow, reading about Jean Stas and his method to extract plantbased alkaloids out of human tissue brings back memories.


I did the Stas-Otto-Trennungsgang myself in the eight semester of my pharmacy studies. We didn´t analyse human tissue, though. Just plain old mixtures of organic substances.   

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text 2019-04-21 13:44
Reading progress update: I've read 147 out of 320 pages.
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Tetrodotoxin acts by inactivating sodium channels in nerve cells, and causes death by paralysis of the diaphragm. Tetrodotoxin binds to a different site in the channels to aconite, at it can delay its action when the two substances are administered in a particular ratio. The symptoms and death of the woman in the Japanese hotel were delayed by the presence of this pufferfish poison.


Tetrodotoxin as an antidote for aconite poisoning. Huh ....




And what did that woman in the Japanese hotel eat? A tasty Fugu-Monkshood sandwich?

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text 2019-04-21 07:53
Reading progress update: I've read 47 out of 320 pages.
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

I just finished the chapter about arsenic and what fascinates me the most is how people have used arsenic for a variety of different reasons, whether to get a better complexion, to get a beauifully coloured wallpaper or to use it as a means of enhancing physical strength.


And after having read about the "Arsenesser" (arsenic eaters) in Styria I stumbled upon this articel in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. Besides the men, who took the arsenic to strenghten their bodies and make them more fit to work in the thin air of the alps, Styrian women used arsenic, inserting it into their vagina during intercourse, as a form of birth control and to terminate possible pregnancies. This has to be the most horrifying way of using this stuff, tbh.


Oh, btw, I will be skipping the two chapters where I haven´t read the accompanying book just get. I will be reading these chapters as soon as I have read The Labours of Hercule and The Pale Horse, that way I won´t get spoiled. And I´ll still be over the 200 pages read threshold for the Snakes and Ladders game. 

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