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text 2017-10-17 15:15
Reading progress update: Thallium
The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison - John Emsley

It's not that often that a book about murder makes me smile, but Emsley has bit of a "Battle of the Grand Dames of Mystery" going on here. (I have put the titles in spoiler tags in case the plot description provides spoilers...)


In the red corner, Dame Agatha:

Agatha Christie built one of her murder mysteries around thallium poisoning. In

1952 she wrote The Pale Horse

(spoiler show)

, in which the murderer used it to dispose of people’s unwanted relatives and disguised his activities as black magic curses. The plot involves a murdered priest and a pub owned by three modern-day witches.* Christie described the symptoms of thallium poisoning very well: lethargy, tingling, numbness of the hands and feet, blackouts, slurred speech, insomnia, and general debility, and she is sometimes blamed for bringing this poison to the attention of would-be poisoners. However, her book was responsible for saving the life of one young girl as we shall see.


In the blue corner, we have Ngaio Marsh also using Thallium:



Final Curtain, written in 1947

(spoiler show)

, the novelist Ngaio Marsh had her villain using it. The murder to be investigated was the death of

Sir Henry Ancred

(spoiler show)

who had been poisoned with thallium acetate which had been prescribed in the treatment of his granddaughter’s ringworm. Marsh clearly had no knowledge of how thallium worked in that she imagined that those poisoned with it would drop dead in minutes. Would-be murderers seeking to emulate her villain would have been very puzzled when their intended victims appeared to suffer no ill effects, although this disappointment might only have lasted a few days, and then they would have been fascinated at the many symptoms it produced.


I haven't read Marsh, yet, (something I intend to remedy someday) but one of the fun aspects in Dame Agatha's work is that she seldom gets the use of poisons wrong. Her training as a nurse and familiarity with pharmacy had much use, of course, but she also didn't slack on her research in that field.


This is the only instance in Emsley's book that cites crime writing. The rest of the book recounts real events and people.

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text 2017-10-10 00:52
Reading progress update: I've read 8 out of 421 pages.
The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison - John Emsley

I think this book is going to be fun, despite some clunky phrases:

The fact that Boyle had been an alchemist for most of his life was to prove an embarrassment to the scientific establishment in later years because of the need to present him as the first true chemist. His book The Sceptical Chymist is today regarded as the seminal work that severed the link between chemistry and alchemy but is not just an attack on alchemy. Indeed among Boyle’s papers when he died there was one he had partly written called Dialogue on Transmutation and Melioration of Metals in which he described a well-documented transformation of base metal into gold performed by a French alchemist, and which he said had been witnessed by several eminent people.

The content promises to make up for the odd writing:

Boyle himself published a paper in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions of 21 February 1676 entitled ‘On the Incalescence of Quicksilver with Gold’. This reports a ‘mercury’ which, when mixed with gold, causes it to react and evolve heat. Lord Brouncker, President of the Royal Society, attested to the efficacy of Boyle’s new ‘mercury’ in that when it was mixed with gold powder on the palm of his hand, he felt the heat it generated.

Really? He mixed this in his hand? That description made me shudder, but then, I guess it hasn't been that long since mercury-silver amalgams have been used in tooth fillings.




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review 2017-08-06 17:06
Field Notes From a Hidden City.
Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary - Esther Woolfson

I don't know what it was with this book, but after reading Corvus this one just paled in comparison. Woolfson seemed to repeat some of the stories in Corvus (or at least make reference to them without further explanation) and seemed to jump all over the place. 



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review 2017-07-18 22:09
The Log from the Sea of Cortez
The Log from the Sea of Cortez - John Steinbeck

Late, late in the night we recalled that Horace says fried shrimps and African snails will cure a hangover. Neither was available.

I called a stop to this @ 63%. I skim read to the end to see if the log ever changes into something that has a structure - or a point.


It may be that I am not in the right mood for this book, but from everything I have read, I get the impression that to be in the right frame of mind to read this book I would have to be on that boat, with a beer (not the first of the day), and develop a sudden liking for pointless meandering, unsubstantiated general philosophising, and killing things just to collect them. 


And I just can't.

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text 2017-07-18 16:33
Reading progress update: I've read 32%.
The Log from the Sea of Cortez - John Steinbeck

This is nowhere near as interesting as I first thought. :(

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