The Poisoner’s Handbook

Blum, Deborah




This text is an informal non-fiction book about the early identification techniques of various poisons developed by New York’s first scientifically trained medical examiner, Charles Norris, and the city’s first toxicologist, Alexander Gettler. Each chapter contains a story about a specific compound or element detected by Gettler and Norris as the cause of death in various murder cases throughout New York in the 1910’s and 20’s. This text will serve as a tool of engagement for students who are either interested in history or benefit from having a story to tie scientific concepts back to.


This book can be used for a variety of high school level readers, with portions of the book written at a 9th or 10th grade reading level, whereas other portions of the book are meant for students reading at the college level. Students reading at and 11th grade reading level may be able to use this text individually, whereas instructional methods would be needed to approach this text with lower reading levels. Many of the historical sections of the book read at a college level and are not appropriate for the purpose of a chemistry course. However, each chapter contains an explanation of the chemical it focuses on, how it interacts with the human body as a toxin, and the development of the detection method used to identify that chemical as the poisoning agent. The vocabulary would need to be defined in class either as students read or prior to the reading. Vocabulary like “metalloprotein,” “carboxyhemoglobin,” or “luminous” are not essential to define in order to understand the overall point the text is making, but would enhance the reading if understood. The book is 336 pages long with medium font size used. There are no illustrations or visual aids present.

Use in and outside of class

This book would be intended for students reading on or above a 10th grade level in honors or AP chemistry course, and portions of the book appropriate to the student’s ability level would be selected. The chemical information would either serve as supplemental introductory content for various lessons and the stories could be used as a tool of engagement or as further reading for students already interested in the content. The historical parts of the book would be more useful to students if the teacher were to rewrite them for the class and let students focus on the chemistry related material. A DRTA (Directed Reading Thinking Activity) for non-fiction would also work well with this book, so students have predictions to tie their attention to the reading and reading is broken into smaller chunks for comprehension monitoring.

Unit Focus


Submitted by Julia Beiro

Privacy Statement