New POI: Deborah Blum–Murder and Chemistry in Jazz Age New York

By Chris Mooney | April 24, 2010 6:16 am

Deb BlumMy next installment as a Point of Inquiry host just went up–you can download here and stream here. Here’s a description of the show:

For many of us, chemistry is something we remember with groans from high school. Periodic Table of the Elements—what a pain to memorize, and what was the point, anyway?

So how do you take a subject like chemistry and make it exciting, intriguing, and compelling?

With her new book The Poisoner’s Handbook, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Deb Blum has done just that. Blum takes a page from the “CSI” franchise, and moves that familiar narrative of crime, intrigue, and high tech bad-guy catching back into the early days of the 20th century. There, in jazz age New York, she chronicles the birth of forensic chemistry at the hands of two scientific and public health pioneers—the city’s chief medical examiner Charles Norris, and his chemistry whiz side-kick Alexander Gettler.

And while chronicling their poison-sleuthing careers, Blum also teaches quite a bit of science. Her book is a case study in science popularization, and one we should all be paying close attention to.

Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer-prize winning science writer and has been a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1997. Prior to that, she spent over a decade working as a science writer for the Sacramento Bee, where her series on ethical issues in primate research, “The Monkey Wars,” won the 1992 Pulitzer.

The Monkey Wars also became a book, and since then Blum has written numerous others: A Field Guide for Science Writers, Sex on the Brain, Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection, and Ghost Hunters: William James and the Scientific Search for Life After Death.

Blum has also written for numerous publications including The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times. She was president of the National Association of Science Writers from 2002-2004, and currently serves on advisory boards to the Council for Advancement of Science Writing and the World Federation of Science Journalists.

Once again, download here and stream here. And I want to encourage you to buy Blum’s excellent new book, The Poisoner’s Handbook. Believe me, it is quite a read.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, point of inquiry

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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