Speakeasy Science

I was sorry to see the deadline pass on The Poisoner’s Handbook audio book giveaway because I received so many smart and thoughtful ideas for writing about chemistry in our culture. And I found it really difficult to pick just five winners – so first I’d like to say thanks to everyone who wrote in for the contest.

If I selected your idea for a free audiobook of The Poisoner’s Handbook, you will have received a direct e-mail from me by now.

As a writer I’m drawn to specific ideas, one in which I can clearly see the story. So expect to see future posts based on these excellent suggestions: lead poisoning as a factor in the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition to the Arctic. (I hope to use this for a series of posts exploring lead toxicity), the origin of the idea that we should enrich food products (such as niacin in flour) for health reasons, the role of bacteria in metabolizing poisonous substances, the oxygen parties of the the 19th century in the context of our attitudes towards chemistry, and the 1980s story of the frozen (paralyzed) addicts whose bizarre illnesses contributed to our understanding of Parkinson’s disease.

I’ll look forward to writing them and you’ll have to let me know if I’ve done them justice!


  1. #1 Isis the Scientist
    June 14, 2010

    Oh!!! An oxygen party post!!! I can’t wait!!!

  2. #2 Deborah Blum
    June 15, 2010

    Do these readers come up with cool ideas or what?

  3. #3 Julie Kinyoun
    June 18, 2010

    Wish I had known about this before the deadline. I could probably dredge up some ideas from my years in the lab. Gosh- there is so much….

  4. #4 Julie
    June 18, 2010

    Could you do something with Madame Bovary and chemistry as it is portrayed in European literature (older)? This book is full of chemistry- there is an “apothecary” in the book. Someone is killed by arsenic poisoning. I would have to reread the book completely to remember all of the science in this book but as I recall there is quite a bit. Strange because it is known for its literary content- not science. But- could be an interesting case study in how science was viewed during that time period.

  5. #5 Deborah Blum
    June 19, 2010

    I hadn’t thought of Madame Bovary – great idea – but I would like to do a piece on chemistry in literature. There’s all the crime fiction, of course. Agatha Christie’s “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” has some rather fascinating tutorials on strychnine. And my recent favorite, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley, is something like a lunatic’s hymn to chemistry. Just have to figure out how to pull all those ideas together!

  6. #6 cizik giderici kalem
    July 15, 2010

    Very nice wish I had known about this before the deadline. I could probably dredge up some ideas from my years in the lab. Gosh- there is so much….

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