It's a strangely quirky text. It's probably best thought of as a kind of encyclopaedia of poisons, but not arranged alphabetically (although both poisons and poisoners are revisited briefly in alphabetical order at the back). It tells us plenty about the different poisons and how they act, from biological poisons and poisonous chemical elements to synthetic alternatives. And it does, as the title suggests, include stories of poisonings and poisoners. But these don't act as a framework for the whole - instead they come in occasionally. And that emphasises the book's biggest flaw as a popular science book - it has no narrative flow. It is a collection of facts, an awful lot of fact statements, which is what gives it that encyclopaedic feel.
I have no reason to assume that the author doesn't know his stuff - there's no author biography I could spot, so we don't know his background - but in a couple of contextual remarks it feels a little under-researched. For example, we are told that the nursery rhyme Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses refers to the Black Death, a once popular assumption that now is generally discounted. More strangely, we are told that laudanum was 'frequently taken by the fictional character Sherlock Holmes.' Yet laudanum only appears to be mentioned once in the Holmes books (and there in reference to a secondary character) - cocaine was Holmes' drug of choice.
Overall, then, not a book I'd recommend to read from end to end, but could prove useful as a quick reference on poisons if you want a non-technical exploration of a wide range of options - ideal for a crime writer, for example, to get some inspiration on how to do away with their victims.
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Review by Brian Clegg