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The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their chamber pots. Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’t see what lies beneath the royal robes and the stench of unwashed bodies; the lice feasting on private parts; and worms nesting in the intestines. In The Royal Art of Poison, Eleanor Herman combines her unique access to royal archives with cutting-edge forensic discoveries to tell the true story of Europe’s glittering palaces: one of medical bafflement, poisonous cosmetics, ever-present excrement, festering natural illness, and, sometimes, murder.


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The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their chamber pots. Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’t see what lies beneath the royal robes and the stench of unwashed bodies; the lice feasting on private parts; and worms nesting in the intestines. In The Royal Art of Poison, Eleanor Herman combines her unique access to royal archives with cutting-edge forensic discoveries to tell the true story of Europe’s glittering palaces: one of medical bafflement, poisonous cosmetics, ever-present excrement, festering natural illness, and, sometimes, murder.

30 review for The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X

    Update How they prevent the Queen from being poisoned. When all the dishes are plated up, one of the pages chooses a dish at random, and that is for the Queen. So either everyone is poisoned or no-one. I just saw that on tv and it fitted with this book. _________ The book hasn't lived up to it's original promise. This is how it feels like it has been written. A massive amount of research has been done. Each quote is on a separate piece of paper, each subject (like that king, or this pope) on anoth Update How they prevent the Queen from being poisoned. When all the dishes are plated up, one of the pages chooses a dish at random, and that is for the Queen. So either everyone is poisoned or no-one. I just saw that on tv and it fitted with this book. _________ The book hasn't lived up to it's original promise. This is how it feels like it has been written. A massive amount of research has been done. Each quote is on a separate piece of paper, each subject (like that king, or this pope) on another, so a million pieces of paper with no more than one fact per piece. Then the papers are sorted into logical streams... .everything about this king here, about that poisoner there etc. The author then writes these up and here and there sees the need to add joining sentences and even more rarely some analysis and even more rarely than that something enlightening, a fact from the time or an insight that gives you something to think about. So it's repetitious, not insightful, the lack of new nuggets don't hold my attention, and then we are on to the next king and it's more of the same about arsenic this, servants have to test that. So it's a dnf from me. But a 2 star, it's really not that bad a book, just not a good history book either. __________________________ Notes on reading So far, so ... good. The subject matter is interesting. However, I'm also reading You Are Not Human: How Words Kill (apparently I'm not a human) (view spoiler)[ 12 million people in the US think that as a Jew I might be a shape-shifting lizard/snake who is undoubtedly related to the Rothschilds who run the world, and many in the Middle East agree where text books are printed that are used in the UK, characterising me and my ilk as snakes. Get the children early, right, so when they join the Labour party they fit right in) (hide spoiler)] and Nine Lives. William Dalrymple and Simon Lancaster are both fantastic writers able to convey whole scenes, emotions and information quite concisely with their words. Let's hope she makes up with good research and interesting information for the rather pedestrian prose.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman is a 2018 St. Martin’s Press publication. This book is so interesting and is so well researched I can’t help but recommend it, especially for history lovers. However, mystery and true crime readers might also find this book fascinating, because the author relies on past and current forensics to prove if well publicized accusations of ‘death by poisoning’ rumors were true or false. Ho The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman is a 2018 St. Martin’s Press publication. This book is so interesting and is so well researched I can’t help but recommend it, especially for history lovers. However, mystery and true crime readers might also find this book fascinating, because the author relies on past and current forensics to prove if well publicized accusations of ‘death by poisoning’ rumors were true or false. However, before you begin reading this book, if you have a weak stomach, proceed with caution. It’s a wonder civilization ever survived to this point considering the filth people lived in, even those who were powerful and wealthy. The subject matter is often truly disgusting. So, consider yourself warned. Poisonings were greatly feared amongst the aristocrats, and perhaps with good reason. However, despite all the great pains they took to avoid being murdered, they were often unwittingly poisoning themselves, either by ingesting prescribed remedies from ill-informed physicians or applying cosmetics with high contents of mercury, lead, or arsenic to their skin. Often a suspicious death, believed to have been hastened by poison turned out to be from a physical ailment which mimicked the symptoms of poisoning. It was interesting to see which people were murdered and which were poisoned by their own hand, and which ones died of an entirely different malady altogether. Cleanliness and sterilization were scoffed at. Anyone suggesting there might be a connection between the filthy conditions of the streets, the water, or air and various illnesses or untimely deaths were laughing stocks, maybe even considered insane. The forensics are fascinating, and the wealth of knowledge and the obvious amount of effort and work done here is impressive. The author, however, does not merely present the facts and lay out her verdict via modern day studies, and exhumations, but she also injects humor and wry sarcasm so that the book occasionally carries a lighter tone, which also works to prevent the book from being overly dry. Some myths are debunked, some proven, while some things remain a mystery, but one thing is certain, this book has doused any fantasies I may have entertained about traveling back in time. The very thought now makes me shudder! Overall, this is a very informative book, which will leave one feeling eternally grateful for the modern conveniences and the scientific and medical advances we enjoy today. *However, you may want to check the ingredients in your face cream, since it is entirely possible it contains traces of urine- although they claim it is now synthetic. 😲😲 4 stars

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amy Imogene Reads

    Who killed the king, the queen, and the page? In The Royal Art of Poison, Herman explores the topics of European history that we didn't learn about in the history books—how did they die, and why? Content: ★★★★★ Pacing: ★★★★★ Humor: Yes- dry wit and more, you need it when you're covering these absurd cases. Graphic warnings: Oh nelly yes. Depictions, descriptions, and more. If you're a squeamish person, I'd pass on this one. We're talking about deaths, symptoms, autopsies, etc. (But not in this re Who killed the king, the queen, and the page? In The Royal Art of Poison, Herman explores the topics of European history that we didn't learn about in the history books—how did they die, and why? Content: ★★★★★ Pacing: ★★★★★ Humor: Yes- dry wit and more, you need it when you're covering these absurd cases. Graphic warnings: Oh nelly yes. Depictions, descriptions, and more. If you're a squeamish person, I'd pass on this one. We're talking about deaths, symptoms, autopsies, etc. (But not in this review, so you're good!) The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul is a pretty self-explanatory title. People in Europe's past went through some pretty interesting waves of medical knowledge and theory, and these theories oftentimes killed them more often than they saved them. (There are obviously several other cultures and continents with the same experiences in medical knowledge, but this book hones in on Europe—specifically, I'd say England, France, and Italy.) In this work, Herman explores the history of poison use in European upper classes, as well as the unnatural deaths, unhygienic settings, and odd medical beliefs that existed during that time. For example, let's just say I no longer wish to travel back in time to Versailles for an afternoon. (I don't want to smell it—ew!) This work was incredibly well researched, well told, and well explained for the average layperson picking this up (me!). In particular, I really enjoyed the case studies, which focused on famous historical figures who died suspiciously (Mozart, Napoleon, Kepler, French kings and mistresses, etc.), and the contemporary diagnosis that was given at the time of their death juxtaposed with our current-day findings and theories. Highly recommend the audiobook—the narrator conveys Herman's dry humor and sense of brevity beautifully.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marialyce

    Did you ever wish that you lived in times long gone? Did you ever think about how glorious it would have been being a king or queen or someone whose voice was heard down through the ages? Imagine dressing in those clothes, being in the regal company with leaders and those who influenced the times? Imagine that you are one of them? Well, perhaps the glory you have imagined is all an illusion! 4 fascinating stars Eleanor Herman has written a truly intriguing book about the times in the past where p Did you ever wish that you lived in times long gone? Did you ever think about how glorious it would have been being a king or queen or someone whose voice was heard down through the ages? Imagine dressing in those clothes, being in the regal company with leaders and those who influenced the times? Imagine that you are one of them? Well, perhaps the glory you have imagined is all an illusion! 4 fascinating stars Eleanor Herman has written a truly intriguing book about the times in the past where poisons were used at will by those who wanted to get rid of a ruler, a lover, or even a competitor. She brings to this story, the actual cases of people who were poisoned and didn’t live to see many more days, oftentimes dying in agony. There were ways that one could be poisoned be it arsenic, lead, or some other cocktail which left you writhing in pain for sometimes days until you succumbed to the poison. To combat this, many employed tasters, a job that sounds like so much fun, or that wonderful tool known as the unicorn horn, or even some concoctions which were often tried on prisoners to gauge their effectiveness which in most cases were nil. and…..if that wasn’t enough…. The men and women loved to adorn themselves with cosmetics. Want a whiter complexion, be a success in court, persuade someone to fall in love, well they had a method for that. They would use cosmetics laden with arsenic, lead, body secretions etc. to achieve the desired result. So, in essence, if someone was not trying to poison you, you yourself did a wonderful job of doing so. Ever see some of those fabulous portraits where people were adorned in luxury? If you looked behind those portraits at the people, you would find many of those same wealthy endowed people were also “endowed” with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. For, you see, the conditions in these castles were deplorable. They were rat infested, where vermin roamed (both the human and the bacterial form), and the glitterati used the corners of the hallways for their bathroom privileges allowing more disease to infest the walls you lived within. Is it any wonder the life expectancy was so low? ..and then there were the doctors who bled you and fed you remedies that did more harm then good. The phrase “do no harm” was not their mantra. Ms Herman wrote the real of life in times past. It was no life of fun and frolic as has often been pictured in movies and books. It was a life filled with filth and other dastardly occurrences. We would like to think that the life of then was over, that the poisonings were a things of the past, but that is hardly true as Ms Herman informs the reader of more modern poisoning. Plutonium anyone? So, in many ways this was a harrowing tale. However, it was also thought provoking, fascinating, and compelling. I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves to learn about the past, learn about things they never told you in school, and find yourself among those who are happy they live in the times they do. Thanks once again to Eleanor Herman and St Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read this engrossing book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Valerity (Val)

    I was invited to be part of the blog tour for this book by Clare and St. Martin's and this is the type of book I can sink my teeth into. I found it a fun if at times squeamish read, but I'm always up to learn new things from other times. I think I'm happy living in current times. The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on I was invited to be part of the blog tour for this book by Clare and St. Martin's and this is the type of book I can sink my teeth into. I found it a fun if at times squeamish read, but I'm always up to learn new things from other times. I think I'm happy living in current times. The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their chamber pots. Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’t see what lies beneath the royal robes and the stench of unwashed bodies; the lice feasting on private parts; and worms nesting in the intestines. In The Royal Art of Poison, Eleanor Herman combines her unique access to royal archives with cutting-edge forensic discoveries to tell the true story of Europe’s glittering palaces: one of medical bafflement, poisonous cosmetics, ever-present excrement, festering natural illness, and, sometimes, murder. My thanks to NetGalley, the author, and publisher for the advance electronic copy for my review and the blog tour. Pub: June 12th, 2018 About the Author: Eleanor Herman is the author of Sex with Kings, Sex with the Queen, and several other works of pop history. She has hosted Lost Worlds for The History Channel, The Madness of Henry VIII for the National Geographic Channel, and is now filming her second season of America: Fact vs. Fiction for The American Heroes Channel. Eleanor lives with her husband, their black lab, and her four very dignified cats in McLean, VA.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ⚔️ Queen of Villainy ⚔️ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest Any romantically-inclined soul who waxes on about how much they'd adore going back in time to be a medieval princess or a Victorian lady should read this book. It will disabuse your idealistic preconceived notions so quickly, you'll feel as though you've been poisoned with cyanide (because it's the fastest-acting poison, you see). I'm picky about nonfiction books - too light and frivolous, and they can cheapen the material. Too dry and pl Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest Any romantically-inclined soul who waxes on about how much they'd adore going back in time to be a medieval princess or a Victorian lady should read this book. It will disabuse your idealistic preconceived notions so quickly, you'll feel as though you've been poisoned with cyanide (because it's the fastest-acting poison, you see). I'm picky about nonfiction books - too light and frivolous, and they can cheapen the material. Too dry and plodding, and it feels like you're locked in a stuffy classroom with a droning professor. THE ROYAL ART OF POISON strikes the perfect balance of being breezy but informative, the modern-day incarnation of Bill Nye the Science Guy for the Adult Audience - if Bill Nye was as poison mad as Amy Stewart, and had a sense of humor so dark that you could almost swear you could see the stars coming out. THE ROYAL ART OF POISON covers a pretty broad array of topics, ranging from diseases caused by unhygienic conditions (pee and poo everywhere), to medicine (arsenic and mercury everywhere), to makeup (lead and arsenic and mercury everywhere), to diet (bad water, bad food, much contamination), to outright poisonings (gasp! treachery!). The last part of the book zips to the modern day, lest you think the cushion of time preserveth you, focusing especially on the unfortunate tendency for Russian activists and enemies of state to disappear, but also talking about the poisoning of Kim Jong-un's brother and some of the tactics of the Nazis. I think my favorite portion of the book was in the middle, where Herman presented several case studies about famous Renaissance-era people who died of mysterious circumstances. Of note was the Duc of Orleans's wife, Henrietta (you might recognize them from the show Versailles), Edward VI (Elizabeth's younger brother, and the only son of Henry VIII), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Napoleon Bonaparte. The beginning of these sections provides backstory in mini-biography format about the people in question and why they were so famous (and dangerous). Then Herman talks about the conclusions the leading scientific minds of the times reached. Lastly, she talks about any modern research that either confirms or disabuses the notion of poisoning with our technological abilities. The subject matter being what it is, this book is not for everyone. Some of the descriptions are incredibly gnarly, and there are all manner of examples of people being cruel to one another (or to animals). That said, if you think you can handle the material, I strongly urge you to pick this book up, as it's super fascinating and informative, and taught me all sorts of cool trivia about history. If all historians were as passionate and engaging as Eleanor Herman, I think there would be a heck of a lot more history majors in the world. I, for one, was fascinated. Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy! 5 stars

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kris - My Novelesque Life

    RATING: 4 STARS June 12, 2018; St. Martin's Press First, I saw the gorgeous cover and was ready to request this book, but then figured I should read the synopsis. I read the intriguing description and clicked on request!  I wasn't sure if this book would be to my liking as true crime books can be a hit or miss with me.  I don't like the scandalization of murders, but rather learn how it was solved and what we can do to prevent it in the future. Eleanor Herman was going to look into the "poisoning RATING: 4 STARS June 12, 2018; St. Martin's Press First, I saw the gorgeous cover and was ready to request this book, but then figured I should read the synopsis. I read the intriguing description and clicked on request!  I wasn't sure if this book would be to my liking as true crime books can be a hit or miss with me.  I don't like the scandalization of murders, but rather learn how it was solved and what we can do to prevent it in the future. Eleanor Herman was going to look into the "poisonings" and deaths of Royalty - history, science and mystery.  These poisonings were not all murder plots.  Often, it was just a case of not knowing the consequences of every day things and uses.  I was going to write "miseducation", but I am not sure if that is the correct word as there was no scientific knowledge on these consequences.  As the titles indicates, it was often germs from urine/fecal matter/dust/filth in general, beauty practices, and medical practices and medicine that over time cause poisoning.   I think Herman does. great job in briefly explaining each form of poisoning.  She gives you the facts in layman terms in a way that is easy to read.  In the second part of the book, Herman gives us case studies of which royals were assumed to be poison.  After providing a description on the Royal's demise, she provides the cause of death at the time period and then a modern day verdict.  This was the most interesting part to read! The last section of the book is the "modern" look at the science behind poison and of royal poisonings. I believe that Herman in this book balances educating and entertaining readers quite well.  It is what kept me reading and interested.  I would say that this is probably a book you will go pick up here and there rather than reading it in one sitting.  I would recommend that you get the eBook on your phone, as it is a perfect one to pull out while waiting in line or for the bus.  ***I received an eARC from NETGALLEY*** My Novelesque Life

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    It is a well-known fact that over the centuries, royals were in dire fear of being poisoned in one way or the other - usually by persons who wanted to take their throne. They employed people to taste test before they ate, not realizing that many times the poison would not take effect immediately anyway. Many who died suspiciously or suddenly gave rise to rumors of having been poisoned. This book highlights the ways that people were unknowingly poisoning themselves, without the help of devious oth It is a well-known fact that over the centuries, royals were in dire fear of being poisoned in one way or the other - usually by persons who wanted to take their throne. They employed people to taste test before they ate, not realizing that many times the poison would not take effect immediately anyway. Many who died suspiciously or suddenly gave rise to rumors of having been poisoned. This book highlights the ways that people were unknowingly poisoning themselves, without the help of devious others. Cosmetics contained many ingredients known to slowly poison users. Add to that the filthy conditions of the time, including chamber pots, a fear of bathing too often, rampant rodents, lice, contaminated water, the cesspool created by emptying chamber pots outdoors, medical practices (including pure lead fillings in teeth), and you have poison everywhere. If that wasn't enough to kill you, the doctors routinely prescribed - are you ready for this? - mercury enemas. Mercury. Enemas. (Insert shudder here.) Skin creams containing arsenic were common. Unbeknownst to the royals, their drinks, hygiene, cosmetics, etc. were doing them in. Who needed an executioner? This book has been described as "morbidly witty" by Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times. I couldn't agree more. While the content is enough to make a person shiver, nonetheless it is very hard to put down. It will make you think twice when you gaze upon the beautifully painted portraits of royalty past, knowing they are most likely covered in lice, stinking to high Heaven, and have all sorts of worms infesting their intestines! A must read for anyone interesting in medical history, royal history, and customs of the times.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    The past was gross. Hardly anyone bathed. Everyone lived in filth. Death came from lack of hygiene. People rubbed foul and toxic substances on their bodies. No one understood the microscopic world of plagues and parasites. And that's just the wealthy upper crust. In The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul, Eleanor Herman shares numerous stories of famous poisonings and notable deaths. In the process, she provides context of what, medically The past was gross. Hardly anyone bathed. Everyone lived in filth. Death came from lack of hygiene. People rubbed foul and toxic substances on their bodies. No one understood the microscopic world of plagues and parasites. And that's just the wealthy upper crust. In The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul, Eleanor Herman shares numerous stories of famous poisonings and notable deaths. In the process, she provides context of what, medically and scientifically, was actually happening. For most of the book, the stories track the 13th to 18th centuries, primarily concerning royals or people close to royal courts: Henry VII of Luxembourg, Cangrande della Scala, Agnes Sorel, Edward VI, Jeanne d'Albret, Eric XIV of Sweden, Ivan the Terrible, and so forth. We learn about a wide range of topics, from the famed royal food tasters (many poisons were slow-acting or dose-dependent enough to bypass this safety measure), to the Italian reputation for poisoning (a 16th century victim was said to be "Italianated"), to the physical effects of heavy metal poisons such as arsenic, antimony, mercury and lead. To cover up smallpox scars, women often caked lead- and arsenic-based cosmetics on their skin, worsening their conditions and requiring more makeup in a vicious cycle resulting in death. Painters used pigments with a host of dangerous elements, leading slowly to madness and eventually death. Mercury was often consumed or taken in the form of enemas. Intentional poisonings were common, and court members feared fatal agents in their clothing and chamber pots. Diagnostics were rudimentary at best, and postmortem examinations were often hopeless to determine cause of death, or faked to obscure unwanted truths. It's not all about poison, though. In pre-scientific times, the cures were often equally dangerous (bloodletting, anyone?) or at best, useless. Royals would pay princely sums for unicorn horns (misidentified narwhal tusks) or bezoar stones (masses of indigestible items found in the stomachs and intestines of animals or even humans) gave a false expectation of invincibility. Clothes were "cleaned" in vats of urine which, in an odd quirk of history, led to mercury being used by hatters. Often what was suspected as poisoning was in reality a perforated ulcer, lung disease, or the accumulated effects of other environmental toxins. Herman ends most stories with a section titled "modern postmortem and diagnosis", in which an exhumed corpse or the examination of contemporaneous accounts have given today's experts enough confidence to establish a definitive cause of death, or at least rule out wilder theories. Many cases remain unsolved because the living descendants of royals (I'm looking at you, Britain) are afraid that a close examination of their ancestors' remains will lay bare illegitimate, broken blood lines. The Dean of Westminster answered one repeated request with: "I do not believe we are in the business of satisfying curiosity." It's not all about royals, thankfully. There are also chapters about (to my mind) far more interesting people who actually contributed something to the world: the astronomer Tycho Brahe (an absolutely wild character), the artist Caravaggio, the musician Mozart, and even the conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte. As we approach the modern era, the role of disease and poison subsides as diagnostic methods improve, the microscopic world is finally grasped, and health and hygiene improves. There's an interesting coda, however, about the autocrats and dictators keeping the poisoning tradition alive (I'm looking at you, Russia and North Korea) with ever subtler and deadlier poisons. It's a book full of fascinating stories and equally engaging science that will cure you of any daydreams about visiting the past. Highly recommended.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nikki "The Crazie Betty" V.

    4.5 Stars I really can’t put into words how much I truly enjoyed reading this book. From disgusting palace life, to doctors who do more harm than good, this book was right up my ally. This book could’ve also been titled “Death by Poison”, as it was about all ways that poisoning has killed people in history. But not by purposeful assassination. The majority of these deaths by poisoning were self-administered. Beauty products all contained elements of poison including mercury, arsenic, lead, and ev 4.5 Stars I really can’t put into words how much I truly enjoyed reading this book. From disgusting palace life, to doctors who do more harm than good, this book was right up my ally. This book could’ve also been titled “Death by Poison”, as it was about all ways that poisoning has killed people in history. But not by purposeful assassination. The majority of these deaths by poisoning were self-administered. Beauty products all contained elements of poison including mercury, arsenic, lead, and even Belladonna to dilate the pupils. These were also common elements in many doctors’ cures for ailments. Most of which were being caused by the very poisons they were being prescribed to cure them! It didn’t help that doctors were still practicing bloodletting, and never washed their hands when performing surgical procedures or delivering babies. Which resulted in the likelihood of death in childbirth, but was never contributed to the nastiness of the doctors’ hands. It also didn’t help that a royal palace was basically a giant toilet. Feces and urine everywhere! I especially loved the poison index at the end, and the studies of famous people in history who purportedly died from poisoning, and were posthumously studied to determine the more likely causes of death. Essentially, you never EVER wanted to get sick in Renaissance times or you were most likely going to die. If not by the disease, then definitely by the doctors you were paying to treat you. If those things I’ve described above sound more interesting than disturbing, then you definitely need this book! I received a copy of this story via Netgalley, and have provided a review of my own accord.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ilana

    As it turns out, many famous cases of poisoning in medieval ages are attributable rather to filthy living conditions, unsanitary habits, and food, and especially meats being undercooked or prepared in filthy kitchens at a time when bathing or washing hands were literally considered as dangerous. Then there were the medical practices in pre-modern times, which would seem barbaric at best to any modern reader. Napoleon, in the 19th century was reputed to have remained in good health precisely beca As it turns out, many famous cases of poisoning in medieval ages are attributable rather to filthy living conditions, unsanitary habits, and food, and especially meats being undercooked or prepared in filthy kitchens at a time when bathing or washing hands were literally considered as dangerous. Then there were the medical practices in pre-modern times, which would seem barbaric at best to any modern reader. Napoleon, in the 19th century was reputed to have remained in good health precisely because he stayed AWAY from doctors! Poisonings often occurred because of the use of such dangerous substances as mercury, lead and arsenic in cosmetic preparations. These details are covered in the first part of the book, which describes life in the palaces, which despite their splendor were treated as latrines by courtiers. 20 cases of noblemen and women who were suspected of having died from deliberate poisoning are observed in some gruesome detail, and descriptions on the findings of contemporary doctors. Each is followed by modern findings based on analysis of remains, or conjecture based on contemporary notes and observations, when corpses were no longer available. The last part of the book is about the modern uses of poison, in which Russia gets quite a bit of coverage, largely thanks to Putin’s habit of getting rid of his dissenters. I found this account fascinating, as it gave a good idea of what daily life might have been like in the courts of the royals. The medical findings were also interesting. I doubt I could have listened with as much composure several years ago, when gruesome details about post-mortems and embalming methods would have made me lose my lunch. However, I am happy to declare that no food was wasted during the reading of this book. Consider yourselves advised.

  12. 4 out of 5

    lacy

    A special thank you goes out to Netgalley and St Martin's Press for allowing me to read an eARC of of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own! tw: animal cruelty This book was absolutely disgusting and I loved every minute of it. What a weird sentence, right? The medieval times were so disgusting and deadly. I literally had no idea just how much filth and disease that floated through the castles. My desire to live in one has diminished slightly. Sure, I knew that life expectancy during th A special thank you goes out to Netgalley and St Martin's Press for allowing me to read an eARC of of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own! tw: animal cruelty This book was absolutely disgusting and I loved every minute of it. What a weird sentence, right? The medieval times were so disgusting and deadly. I literally had no idea just how much filth and disease that floated through the castles. My desire to live in one has diminished slightly. Sure, I knew that life expectancy during that time was low but hot damn, it's amazing anybody lived at all! This book not only talking about different types of poisons and how royalty had a huuuuuge fear of it but how everyday objects used during that time was deadly. Make up had arsenic and mercury in it. Arsenic was used to "cure" a host of diseases along with everyday ailments. Even eating was dangerous. People would eat raw meat and unpasteurized milk. Bathing was frowned up along with handwashing and the washing of surgical utensils. The list goes on and on. One thing I like to point out whenever I review books like these is readability. What I mean by this is some non fiction books can be wordy and cause my eyes to glaze over, thus not retaining any of the information I just read. This happened in this book but not as frequently as one would think. I was enthralled and thoroughly disgusted for most of the book. Especially when the different cases of how some famous people died. That was my favorite part. Truly just amazing how far medical technology has come. To think, we, as humans, once lived like that. Also, friends, please be advised. There is slight mentions of animal cruelty. Often, when people were testing poisons, they would give them to cats and dogs to study the effects. Animals were also given the food and drink of the suspected poisoned human to test if there was actually poison in there or not. It's mentioned periodically throughout the book but it's not super graphic. Take care in your mental health if you decided to pick this book up. Overall, this was a great book. I took a chance on it and it paid off. St. Martin's Press has yet to steer me wrong. If you guys can handle gross detailed description of illness and death along with mentions of animal cruelty then this will be the book for you. Although, I can never look at medieval history the same way again.

  13. 4 out of 5

    The Captain

    This be a pop history book that looks at the use of poisons. It was recommended to me by me matey Sionna @ booksinhereyes. I loved this one and read it in one day. A book of three parts, the first part discusses common poisons, the (lack of) hygiene, and how medicines and cosmetics were actually (inadvertently) poisons in disguise. The second part looks at specific deaths of historical figures and discusses how modern science helped determine the true cause of death. The Medici family, for examp This be a pop history book that looks at the use of poisons. It was recommended to me by me matey Sionna @ booksinhereyes. I loved this one and read it in one day. A book of three parts, the first part discusses common poisons, the (lack of) hygiene, and how medicines and cosmetics were actually (inadvertently) poisons in disguise. The second part looks at specific deaths of historical figures and discusses how modern science helped determine the true cause of death. The Medici family, for example, was known for this poison laboratory and gifted other rulers with poisons and instructions for use. The third part deals with poison in the modern world – basically as Russian instruments of death by assassination. This book is chock full of unsavory, fascinating facts. The one that I currently can’t get out of me noggin is that in Versailles the floors were covered in feces and urine because there was no septic system and royal protocols were weird. And these people didn’t bathe! Check out me other reviews at https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordp...

  14. 4 out of 5

    wanderer (Para)

    Once in a while, I'll take a break from fantasy and read a nonfiction book. This one in particular has caught my attention because I have read City of Lies a few months before - a fantasy book focused on poisons - and wanted to know more about how it worked in real life. I was not disappointed and ended up enjoying myself very much. The book is roughly divided into three parts and mostly focused on the 1300-1800s. The first one doesn't only focus on a general overview of poisons and antidotes Once in a while, I'll take a break from fantasy and read a nonfiction book. This one in particular has caught my attention because I have read City of Lies a few months before - a fantasy book focused on poisons - and wanted to know more about how it worked in real life. I was not disappointed and ended up enjoying myself very much. The book is roughly divided into three parts and mostly focused on the 1300-1800s. The first one doesn't only focus on a general overview of poisons and antidotes, but also general hazards people in the past faced and all the ways in which they could have been accidentally exposed to toxic substances. From heavy metals in make-up, to medicine that wasn't, to rampant disease because of poor hygiene (they pissed and shat everywhere). The latter chapter in particular was disgusting, but also at points amusing in an absurd way. The past was a nasty, nasty time. The second tells about 20 stories of people who allegedly died of poison. The circumstances, their lives, and a modern analysis of what happened. This was one of the most interesting parts for me. There's a lot of court drama and intrigue (mistresses! Marriage plots!) and it's fascinating to find out the truth, who really died of poison and who of disease. Tuberculosis and accidental heavy metal poisoning were common ways to go. In the third, we learn how and why poisoning slowly fell out of use on a larger scale over time, and about poisons used in the modern era, in particular by Russia. While the use of poison did decrease, it is by no means a thing of the past. Overall, while the book started off a tad dry and at points read like a list of facts, it eventually changed in a fast, fascinating read. It requires a strong stomach, but I would still highly recommend it to everyone. Enjoyment: 4/5 Execution: 4/5 Recommended to: writers, anyone wanting to learn more about poison, those who read City of Lies and were intrigued Not recommended to: people with a weak stomach More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leona Petrovic

    I loved this one! I wouldn't recommend to the faint of heart though....

  16. 4 out of 5

    Navi

    This book is about how poison permeated every facet of life for historical royal figures. It was a highly entertaining read! My favourite section of this book was Part 1: Poison, Poison, Everywhere where the author discusses the historical relevance of poison. The different chapters cover poison at the dinner table, cosmetic use, medicinal purposes and within the palace walls. The author takes the reader into the intimate lives of historical royals and their obsession with poison. The extent that This book is about how poison permeated every facet of life for historical royal figures. It was a highly entertaining read! My favourite section of this book was Part 1: Poison, Poison, Everywhere where the author discusses the historical relevance of poison. The different chapters cover poison at the dinner table, cosmetic use, medicinal purposes and within the palace walls. The author takes the reader into the intimate lives of historical royals and their obsession with poison. The extent that they would go to prevent being poisoned made me chuckle. Not only were there dedicated individuals who would taste everything before the royal did, they went a step further. They were forced to kiss the king’s tablecloth, seat cushion and even sit on the king’s chamber pots just in case they were poisoned as well. The chapter on the filthiness of royal palaces was equally as memorable. There are multiple passages about the copious amounts of human excrement within the palace walls that will make you cringe with disgust. They are forever imprinted in my mind! There is a section in the book that focuses on various historical figures who died at a young age or under suspicious circumstances (Henry VII, Wolfgang Mozart and Napoleon Bonaparte to name a few) . The author provides a short introduction about the life and death of each individual. This is followed with a discussion of the autopsies that were performed both in contemporary and modern times. It is so fascinating to me how we can uncover so much from centuries old corpses. My only complaint is that I wish this section was longer. I received a free copy of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mercedes Rochelle

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Much to my surprise, this book immediately rose to the top of my pile; like sticky candy, I couldn't put it down. Yes I admit to a guilty curiosity about nasty murders and suspicious intrigues; this book satisfied my curiosity and much more. I was familiar with many of the historical victims, though I was not as familiar with the “true” story behind their deaths. For instance, I knew that King Edward VI died a pain I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Much to my surprise, this book immediately rose to the top of my pile; like sticky candy, I couldn't put it down. Yes I admit to a guilty curiosity about nasty murders and suspicious intrigues; this book satisfied my curiosity and much more. I was familiar with many of the historical victims, though I was not as familiar with the “true” story behind their deaths. For instance, I knew that King Edward VI died a painful and lingering death; in a movie I remember that the Duke of Northumberland was depicted as prolonging the boy’s life with painful medication until his plot to gain control had ripened. What I didn’t know was that modern interpretation attributes his death to a probable childhood case of latent tuberculosis (a contemporary postmortem revealed putrefied ulcers in his lungs) which could have been reactivated by a case of measles. Not only do we learn about famous deaths and poisonings, we get a primer on late medieval customs that were toxic, such as the use of arsenic, lead, and mercury in medicines—not to mention the fact that medieval doctors practiced horrible procedures on their royal patients that were much worse than the diseases. For instance, there was poor George III, who refused to take his medicine until he became too ill to object. “The doctors diagnosed an improper flow of bile. To correct the humoral imbalance, they gave him medicine to bring on projectile vomiting and diarrhea. They also blistered his scalp and applied leeches to his forehead to draw the evil humors out of his brain, and blistered his legs to pull the humors downward. Within twenty-four hours of his first treatment, the king was feverish, his urine brown, his feet swollen, his eyeballs yellow, and his blisters festering and oozing pus. Even worse, his mental state deteriorated rapidly.” No wonder! As you might expect, the subject matter is not exactly for the faint-hearted (pardon the pun). There is plenty of bile, putrefaction, bloodletting, puss, and hair loss to turn the strongest stomach, but the author manages to deliver the information in such a light-hearted style that she entertains while informing. While talking about Elizabeth I and her refusal to allow an autopsy and embalming procedure, Herman tells us that “Her wishes regarding embalming were overruled, however, given that she would not be buried in a timely manner. Six of her ladies-in-waiting had to sit next to the coffin in shifts, twenty-four hours a day, for over a month…One night an explosion ripped open the casket with a deafening crack, spewing foul-smelling gases and sending the women screaming from the room. To put a positive spin on the situation, they agreed ‘that if she had not been opened, the breath of her body would have been much worse.’” The book is full of this kind of imagery, delivered almost tongue-in-cheek nearly all the way to the end. Alas, when we get to the modern-day stuff (mostly about Putin and Russia), the prose turns cold and sterile, as though not enough time has passed to treat the events with detachment like we see in earlier chapters. Although interesting, it changes the tone and ends on a pretty somber note. I think the book would have been better off to retain its historical flavor rather than bringing us into the 21st century. There was an extensive bibliography—much more than I would have expected from a “pop history” like it says on the back cover—but no footnotes, which I would have appreciated. Nonetheless, I found this book to be a useful addition to my library and it was full of many interesting surprises.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Review to Come

  19. 4 out of 5

    Vfields Don't touch my happy!

    I’m in search for my next Mary Roach read and this was very, very close. Oh no, it’s not insulting being compared to Mary Roach, it is indeed a compliment. I enjoyed the last two-thirds of the book very much. Particularly when Herman focused on characters in history I was familiar with. The best part were the modern autopsy results.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Speckels (Metaphors and Miscellanea)

    A gossip column meets my high school AP European History textbook (McKay, I'll never forget you!) in this highly entertaining, if occasionally pedantic, read. Think that combination sounds fascinating? Horrifying? Impossibly bizarre? The Royal Art of Poison is all of the above, and you should keep reading. Now, those who know me can attest to the fact that I read a little bit of everything, but this book was outside of even my usual territory, and that's saying something. It is precisely what its A gossip column meets my high school AP European History textbook (McKay, I'll never forget you!) in this highly entertaining, if occasionally pedantic, read. Think that combination sounds fascinating? Horrifying? Impossibly bizarre? The Royal Art of Poison is all of the above, and you should keep reading. Now, those who know me can attest to the fact that I read a little bit of everything, but this book was outside of even my usual territory, and that's saying something. It is precisely what its cover advertises: an examination of the storied history between the European monarchy and poison of all sorts. Tl;dr Europeans loved poisoning each other, especially in the 16th-18th centuries, but they also loved accusing each other of poison while inadvertently poisoning themselves. Eleanor Herman divides her book is divided into three sections. In the first, she covers various ways in which European nobles would poison and make themselves sick without even knowing it. Among other things, cosmetics and medicines often contained lead, arsenic, and mercury; people didn't believe that bacteria were a real thing; and it was considered a good practice to split a bird in half and put it on the head or feet of a sick person to "draw out ill humors." Though the number of "wtf" moments in this section is high, and Herman does a good job of trying to avoid sounding like an info-dump, after a while it does start to sound like hearing the same thing over and over again. But it is an excellent and necessary prelude to part two. In the second, she dashes through 17 case studies of historical poisonings or accusations of poison. Combining the historical context of the alleged attempts with both contemporary and modern-day postmortems, sometimes including chemical analysis of human remains, she delivers new insight and possible conclusions as to what really happened (see the end of this review for a body count). This was the best part of the book by far, swirling with rumors and commentary from nobles associated with the situation. Chapters were brief but not rushed, and the range of names--from lesser-known people like Agnes Sorel to famous kings and even Mozart--is impressive beyond a doubt. In the third, she takes poisoning to the modern era. This is where the book really faltered, and it's the biggest reason for my four-star rating. Honestly, I almost skipped this section halfway through, which is saying something, since it's also the shortest section of the book. Focusing primarily on Russia, Herman rattles off in rapid succession all sorts of poisonings from within the past hundred years or so, emphasizing that we don't really get false accusations of poison anymore because autopsies better detect it. It's not that the stories aren't interesting, but this section is devoid of the personality and story-like qualities that brought the earlier case studies to life, which causes it to really drag. Couple other random notes: - There are a few pages at the end that describe the exact effects of all poisons mentioned in the book, and a "hall of fame" for poisons, with such dubious honors as Least Painful, Most Painful, and Fastest Acting. It's an entertaining bit, but I'm not entirely sure why it's at the very end. - Herman uses the phrase "we can imagine" a lot. Like, a lot. It started to bug me after a while, but that's not a huge deal. - IMPORTANT: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH. There is blood and gore, there are bugs and viruses, boils and bruises and body parts turning unnatural colors. It's fun, but it's very gross fun. And now, what you've all been waiting for: the final body count from the case studies. Deliberate poisoning - 3 Accidental poisoning - 2 Poisoning, source/motive unclear - 2 Natural causes/illness - 10* *Note that one of the ones who died of natural causes did have someone attempting to poison her, but those attempts were unsuccessful. All in all, not perfect, but an enjoyably weird read that will definitely make you think twice about wanting to live as a king/princess/court musician back in the day.

  21. 5 out of 5

    TraceyL

    A history of famous people being poisoned, sometimes on purpose but mostly by mistake. This is more of a history of medicine. It focuses on how oblivious doctors were in the past, and how they often just prescribed random treatments to their patients with the idea of "maybe this will work?" It did get quite dry at times which most medical non-fiction books are to me. I did get some fun facts out of it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    Interesting and comprehensive but at times the author sacrifices accuracy in favor of writing in a style that will appeal to the general reader. I can’t speak to other historical periods but I do know the sixteenth century rather well. A reference to Elizabeth the First wearing royal underpants may make readers smile, but it isn’t accurate. That garment wasn’t yet in use. A little later, in the account of the death of a Frenchman in England, the author says his mother “howled for an autopsy.” Th Interesting and comprehensive but at times the author sacrifices accuracy in favor of writing in a style that will appeal to the general reader. I can’t speak to other historical periods but I do know the sixteenth century rather well. A reference to Elizabeth the First wearing royal underpants may make readers smile, but it isn’t accurate. That garment wasn’t yet in use. A little later, in the account of the death of a Frenchman in England, the author says his mother “howled for an autopsy.” That would have been difficult, since she’d been dead for more than 20 years. The man’s wife did believe her was poisoned. In another rather casual treatment of historical fact, she says Henry VIII “ate one too many pork chops and died.” Elsewhere she makes a amateur mistake for an historian by refering to a knight, Sir Gervais Elwes, as Sir Elwes when it is properly Sir Gervais. Yes, I realize I’m nitpicking, but if those details are wrong, it makes me wonder what else has been distorted by the author’s choice of a casual style of writing.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Samm | Sassenach the Book Wizard

    So basically im gonna be paranoid now lol tons of interesting stories. I had never thought of doing modern autopsies and toxicology tests on centuries-old bones so thats prefty cool. I love that the "Modern Poisons" section was 95% Vladimir Putin being fucking crazy and 5% North Korea being crazy

  24. 4 out of 5

    Carin

    I don't know about you, but I like my history with a healthy dose of murder. I also like my science with a healthy dose of history and murder (science goes down harder so it needs two spoonfuls of sugar.) Added bonus for all involved if there's also mystery and snark. If all of this is sounding intriguing, you must read The Royal Art of Poison. It's not a silly book. The author really has done her homework. And she has pulled together lots of historical documents along with modern medical analysi I don't know about you, but I like my history with a healthy dose of murder. I also like my science with a healthy dose of history and murder (science goes down harder so it needs two spoonfuls of sugar.) Added bonus for all involved if there's also mystery and snark. If all of this is sounding intriguing, you must read The Royal Art of Poison. It's not a silly book. The author really has done her homework. And she has pulled together lots of historical documents along with modern medical analysis and the occasional modern exhumation to try to piece together which royals may have been poisoned, which may have been poisoned accidentally (perhaps by their own hand through makeup, accidentally when people just didn't know certain things were poisonous, or even purposefully by well-meaning doctors trying to cure the royal of a preceding poisoning or other malady), and which may have died by some other medical issue, such as disease, that may have mimicked some symptoms of poison. Turns out to be a lot of all of the above. A lot of royals were accidentally poisoned one way or another. And some thought to have been poisoned weren't. Along the way you'll learn some fun science, about for example how the lead in makeup in the Elizabethan era would destroy your skin, forcing you to wear more and more makeup to cover your ravaged skin, creating a hideous cycle. And also how it may have contributed to Elizabeth's volatile temper in her later years. Ah, vanity. And boy, being a royal taster was a bad job. Not to mention ineffectual as most poisons are not fast-acting. I also liked the creativity of some poisons, some of which were laughable (like opening the envelope of a letter that had been poisoned with a poisonous perfume, supposedly could kill with a couple of whiffs. Nope.) This was a thoroughly enjoyable history of poisonings, attempted poisonings, accidental poisonings, and assumed poisonings. Much fun!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Angela H.

    I was interested in the topic, but I do not like the execution of the fact presented in the book. Here are the reason why I did not finish the book: 1. For a nonfiction book, it is written like a historical fiction for first portion where history behind the royal family and speculation on how he or she was poisoned. Then, the second portion focuses on post mortem examination with modern technology. The findings are presented as a nonfiction book. 2. I understood that arsenic/lead/fece/blood/othe I was interested in the topic, but I do not like the execution of the fact presented in the book. Here are the reason why I did not finish the book: 1. For a nonfiction book, it is written like a historical fiction for first portion where history behind the royal family and speculation on how he or she was poisoned. Then, the second portion focuses on post mortem examination with modern technology. The findings are presented as a nonfiction book. 2. I understood that arsenic/lead/fece/blood/other metals were used commonly and infected the air and water. It was stated repeatedly. 3. The introduction was disappointing. It left the impression that gruesome facts will be presented. It does present information in details. I didn't like the way the facts were explained. 4. I decided to not finish the book due to losing repeated interest while listening.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    http://www.bookwormblues.net/2020/06/... I keep coming back to this book. I read this a while ago, and then I read it again. I’ve done it once via audiobook and once as a library loan, and I’ve loved it both times. I mean, it’s a book about poisoning. How could you possibly go wrong? You should have a strong stomach before you read this book. Not because of all the gross deaths or whatever else you might assume, rather, from all the disgusting hygiene practices that are discussed. I had no idea, http://www.bookwormblues.net/2020/06/... I keep coming back to this book. I read this a while ago, and then I read it again. I’ve done it once via audiobook and once as a library loan, and I’ve loved it both times. I mean, it’s a book about poisoning. How could you possibly go wrong? You should have a strong stomach before you read this book. Not because of all the gross deaths or whatever else you might assume, rather, from all the disgusting hygiene practices that are discussed. I had no idea, for example, that Henry VIII had a poop house, or that it took a veritable bevy of servants to care for the place, or that if you didn’t feel like it, peeing in the corner of basically any room in a castle was perfectly fine, thank you very much. Seriously, half the time when I was reading this book, I was amazed that humanity managed to survive this long. Throughout much of history, the ruling classes have been absolutely paranoid about poisoning. They’ve done a lot of things to try to avoid being poisoned, like hiring tasters, or religiously guarding who is able to get close to them, and various other means. While some poisonings actually did happen, by and large it seems like most of these people were actually unknowingly poisoning themselves. Hygiene wasn’t really a thing, and if it was, it was usually scoffed at. People did not bathe or cleanse themselves properly. Food was often not cooked the whole way through. People seemed to go, “why walk all the way to the bathroom when there’s a perfectly good place to poop right here, six feet from where I’m eating dinner surrounded by all these people?” Then there are other things, like bugs (fleas, etc.) that carried viruses and makeup. Often women would rub powders and face creams with arsenic on them all over their faces. There was a big trend for a long time with men rubbing mercury on their hats. Some face creams had urine in them. Lots of medicines and preventatives that people took back in the day had extremely dangerous and harmful ingredients in them. The means to avoid being poisoned were also very interesting. Royals would hire servants to try on their clothes before they wore them. They’d test out antidotes on prisoners. They’d have people taste their food, lick their spoons and forks for them, and even test their chamber pots. It doesn’t take someone well-versed in the germ theory to see how all of this could very easily be spreading a contagion from one person, to another, and back again. If you get COVID-19 and lick my spoon, I’ll get it, too. However, people didn’t know that back then, so through the very act of trying to save themselves a miserable poisoning and death, they were increasing, dramatically, their risk of dying from something as mundane as the flu their servant isn’t aware they have yet. Often, people would die mysteriously, and so it would be considered a poisoning, while in truth it was anything but. Herman does some amazing research here, and forensics has come a long way. She flits her way through history, telling common hygiene and personal practices, and then the story of how this person died. What was supposed at the time, and what actually happened based on what evidence we currently have. Through research, she debunks some stories of poisoning entirely, and others, she confirms. I honestly found myself to be less interested in the stories of poisoning themselves (and there were some, and they were quite fascinating… seriously, people get creative when they kill), and more interested by the life and times, I guess you could say. And it isn’t all just about back in the day. She does move forward and talk about Nazis, Russian state ordered disappearances and deaths, and even the poisoning of Kim Jong-Un’s brother. However, while these topics are covered, the focus is more on older history, and some of the figures that are covered are quite grand in their own right, like Napoleon Bonaparte, and even Mozart, and serve as sort of mini-history focal points, where you get not only the rundown of the person being discussed, but also the life and common practices in the time in which they lived. The truth is often far more complex than anyone was often led to believe, and while yes, some people did get poisoned, the fact of the matter is that, throughout history, people have often been shortening their own lives by various means. Herman exposes a lot of these common practices, and uses forensic evidence to get to the heart of a lot of these stories. Her quick wit, and stunning depth of her research combine to make this book a compulsive read. The topic is interesting, and her handling of it, and the long sprawl of history she takes her readers through, is handled quite well, with an easy pace through an impressive sprawl of history, never getting overly bogged down in any one point of the book. As a writer, this book gave me a ton of ideas. As an editor, it has helped me scrutinize the books I work on that involve power and poison, hygiene and the like, in a more realistic light. This book isn’t for everyone. Like I’ve said, I left it wondering how humanity has managed to survived as long as we have. There are a lot of stories of cruelty to animals, and other people here. There’s a lot of discussion of poor hygiene practices that will likely revolt you. It shocked and amazed me, but I seem to have a very high threshold for what I can and cannot handle. If you don’t, however, and stories of people pooping in public places, for example, makes your stomach roll, you might want to skip this book. For me, I was shocked and entertained, and I loved it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    No three words have made me shudder as much as: SULFURIC. ACID. ENEMA.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum

    The next book I read for the Non Fiction November Reading Challenge was The Royal Art of Poison - Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman. It covers all of the toxic poisons contained in cosmetics and the disastrous medicines used by doctors and well-meaning apothecaries. It examines a collection of famous figures from history and their deaths, with modern reviews and theories on whether they were poisoned. Heavy metal poisons include: arsenic, antimony, lead and m The next book I read for the Non Fiction November Reading Challenge was The Royal Art of Poison - Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman. It covers all of the toxic poisons contained in cosmetics and the disastrous medicines used by doctors and well-meaning apothecaries. It examines a collection of famous figures from history and their deaths, with modern reviews and theories on whether they were poisoned. Heavy metal poisons include: arsenic, antimony, lead and mercury. Some notable plant poisons include: belladonna or deadly nightshade, hemlock, henbane, monks-hood or wolf's bane. Post renaissance poisons included: cyanide, sarin and strychnine. I'm interested in the food poisonings in royal courts and was amused to learn that when servants carried food into a royal dining chamber: "they placed them on a credenza, which takes its name from the various 'credence' tests for poison conducted there." Page 153 The horn of a unicorn was believed to show indications of poison when it was waved over or dipped into food or drink. It wasn't a real unicorn horn but the tusk of a narwhal, a creature not discovered until the eighteenth century. Bezoar stones were also used. As we now know, many poisons were used in cosmetics. For white teeth, ladies applied a powder: "that contained grain, pumice stone, aloe, vinegar, honey, cinnamon, pearls, scrapings of ivory, quinces, and walnuts crushed into a paste and cooked with silver or gold foil." Page 607 The abrasive powder removed stains but also the tooth enamel. Many medications contained heavy metals and the sicker a patient became, the more medicine they required often making them sicker. I knew about the humours, blood letting, enemas and poultices, but I didn't know that: "whenever a member of the royal family was gravely ill, doctors would remove saintly body parts and entire corpses from churches and monasteries and put them in bed with the invalid." Page 793 Outrageous! Herman introduces us to poisons used today that are almost untraceable and concludes with the poison hall of fame. This was an ingenious list containing the quickest poison (cyanide), the most painful poison (strychnine) and so on. All in all, Herman gives us plenty of interesting tidbits from history to sink our teeth into. I could have done with less of the biographical history in each of the modern autopsies but it's a small complaint. The Royal Art of Poison was informative, unexpectedly funny (have you ever felt so sick you believed you were bursting in twain?) and highly recommended.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anna Louise

    This was sent to me in exchange for an honest review on Net Galley. This was wonderful - but obviously only for those of a non-squeamish nature with an interest in the subject. Even I grimaced a time or two! You can tell how incredibly detailed the author's research was and I just found it absolutely fascinating. I will definitely be reading the author's other works as soon as possible. This was set up in three parts: Part 1 - was 5 chapters describing poisons used throughout history not only to ki This was sent to me in exchange for an honest review on Net Galley. This was wonderful - but obviously only for those of a non-squeamish nature with an interest in the subject. Even I grimaced a time or two! You can tell how incredibly detailed the author's research was and I just found it absolutely fascinating. I will definitely be reading the author's other works as soon as possible. This was set up in three parts: Part 1 - was 5 chapters describing poisons used throughout history not only to kill but also to 'cure' afflictions, enhance make up and health, as well as beliefs in miracle cures such as unicorn horn and the poisonous towns and buildings people lived in. Part 2 - case studies of historical figures who had died one way or another from poison. These famous figures include Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible and King Edward, the son of Henry VIII. Following each case study was a modern day autopsy, or in the cases of British monarchs whom we are not allowed to disturb from Westminster by order of the Queen or the French ones who were destroyed during the French Revolution, modern day explanations from historical accounts. Part 3 - Poisons in the modern era, not only what we use them for today but more modern cases of poisons being used against political dissenters, such as enemies of the Russian regime. Trigger warnings for the following: gore, bodily fluids, blood, cannibalism, surgery, torture, animal torture and death, descriptions in detail of autopsies, mention of rape, death of babies, miscarriages, desecration of graves.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shiloah

    If one could imagine the royalty of days gone by according to this book—you would be rolling in filth, stink, and more. Yes, this book is filled with factual accounts from historical documents, but too much opinion and exaggeration of them added on by the author. Like Mark Twain’s diatribe of the Middle Ages in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, there is much bitter opinion of this timeframe from the author. In other works I’ve studied, the authors have made it clear that societies did If one could imagine the royalty of days gone by according to this book—you would be rolling in filth, stink, and more. Yes, this book is filled with factual accounts from historical documents, but too much opinion and exaggeration of them added on by the author. Like Mark Twain’s diatribe of the Middle Ages in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, there is much bitter opinion of this timeframe from the author. In other works I’ve studied, the authors have made it clear that societies did their best with what they had. I was hoping more for the poison information, but this was about much more than that. I abandoned this book 1/3 of the way in with a bitter taste in my mouth. (Pun somewhat intended.)

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