The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned At Home, Work and Play

9 Mar

“The Arsenic Century etc” turned up as a recommendation for me on Goodreads.  It looked interesting and I thought I’d take a punt at it. I’ll go on record as saying I am utterly bewildered as to how anyone in Great Britain survived the 19th century. Going by this book, it seems like EVERYTHING was out to get people. Their books, wallpaper, dresses, sweets, hats, candles….even their socks were out to get them! The most shocking thing about the book was learning that the various governments of Great Britain over that century were more interested in keeping industry going than protecting the lives of their citizens. It took several major poisoning outbreaks for them to actually legislate against arsenic, and even then the legislation was piss weak. James C. Whorton’s research is impeccable and his writing style is both scholarly and accessible.  He is an academic with a deft touch with the dry humour, making this book readable for everyone. Not a book for those without a strong stomach as the descriptions get a little graphic. No photos, thank goodness, but I could have done without the artist’s illustration of a scrotum suffering from arsenic pock. Yuk doesn’t begin to cover it. A good book for anyone interested in toxins, British legal and medical history, and British history in general. Highly recommended.

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