The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

by Christina Baum

Each month, NACCHO brings you a new public health book, read and reviewed by NACCHO staff. Book reviews in this series originally appeared on NACCHO Voice: The Word on Local health Departments and are republished here with permission.

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The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum tells the captivating tale of the evolution of the New York City medical examiner’s office between 1915 and 1936. During this period, the office was led by the first scientifically trained medical examiner, Charles Norris, who appointed the city’s first toxicologist, Alexander Gettler. These two recognized that poisoners were literally getting away with murder and set out to map the toxicology effects of various poisons, setting the forensic standards for the rest of the country.

Told through a series of murder investigations, the book presents a lively and suspenseful tale that foretells the current medical examiner role.

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Christina Baum

Christina Baum is a Senior Program Analyst in the infectious disease program at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) where she works to support the efforts of local health departments across the country in infectious disease prevention and control. Project work has focused on healthcare-associated infections, antimicrobial resistance and stewardship, and emerging infectious diseases but also includes a broad range of infectious disease, reflecting the diverse work of local health departments. She received her Master’s in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and previously worked as a community health worker at a Federally Qualified Health Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.