This book, A Taste for Poison, is written by Professor Neil Bradbury of Physiology. In it, he utilises tales of poisons and poisoners to describe how each poison affects physiological systems. As the traditional spoonful of honey that makes the medication go down, Bradbury appears to assume that people will only read about human physiology if they are first presented to stories that demonstrate that science isn’t dull, that it can really be hazardous and racy. He has a point.
A different deadly chemical and the killers who employed it are the centre of each chapter, which then goes on to describe how it kills. Each chapter. As a result, we get a better understanding of how neurotransmitters transport electrical impulses across synapses and along the length of nerve cells. Atropine, the toxin in deadly nightshade that blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and strychnine, a widely used rat poison that blocks the neurotransmitter glycine, both exhibit this in their respective chapters. The chapter on cyanide, which hinders our cells’ mitochondria from utilising oxygen to produce energy, teaches us about aerobic respiration. And in the chapter on ricin, which kills the cellular complexes known as ribosomes, which are responsible for protein synthesis, we learned about the process of protein production.
Is there a better option available?
The book is charming as a teaching aid for physiology, but that’s about it. For a different take on the history of toxicology and forensic medicine, try Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook.
Dr. Bradbury, on the other hand, is not a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Some of the phrases are clumsy. According to his description of one victim’s request to her (murderous) husband, “As it turned out, Elizabeth would never watch television again,” he wrote of his wife’s wish. Ugh.
A poisoner’s confession after killing his wife and infecting eight others is described by Bradbury as “he implored the perpetrator to come forward and submit to law enforcement as quickly as possible—while knowing that he himself was the guy the police were looking for.” The alpha particles ravage the liver cells like Vandals storming Rome, as he explains how radioactive polonium-210 kills DNA.
As a result, there are a few words from Bradbury that aren’t necessarily jewels but nonetheless manage to make the reader grin. If you think about it for more than a second, “Lucky” is merely a moniker for someone who has been poisoned by the aconite plant.
What’s the big deal about this?
When it comes to poisoning, women are the great poisoners, as Ray Bradbury’s epigraph begins: Given that his first three stories are about husbands poisoning their spouses, that’s a strange assertion to be making. The fourth tells the storey of a guy poisoning his ex-boyfriend, wife’s whom he had divorced. To get to the Lambeth assassin, we have to go through a little intermission in which the Russian government tracks down and poisons a traitor. Bradbury’s definition of “excellent” isn’t clear, although it doesn’t appear to be dependent on frequency.
After poisoning his pregnant wife, the Lambeth poisoner exclusively targeted prostitutes. Many of the women who were poisoned in this case were expecting babies, so the males evidently decided that killing them was better than having to cope with a child. Pregnant women in the United States suffer the greatest risk from homicidal partners, therefore poisoners mirror society as a whole.
“The following material is entirely for educational reasons only and is not meant to indicate the benefits or drawbacks for the employment of any particular poison in the commission of murder,” reads Bradbury’s author’s note accompanying the appendix (titled “Pick Your Poison”).