Read/Write: Book of Poisons

It’s essential for writers to immerse themselves both in their craft and the works of other authors. To that end, I’ll review a book to read for pleasure and a book to sharpen your writing skills every month. I hope that Read/Write will introduce you to new favorites and overlooked classics.


Like many authors, I’d probably be held for questioning if the FBI searched my bookshelves. My reference library includes books on knives, books on explosives, books on improvised anti-personnel devices, books on hacking computer security, and books on building nuclear devices in your bathtub. But I think the one book that would raise the most eyebrows at Homeland Security would be Book of Poisons, by Serita Stevens and Anne Bannon.

Book of Poisons - Stevens & BannonSure, Book of Poisons is subtitled “A Guide for Writers”, but that’s little comfort to the agent flipping through its pages: this is a frighteningly thorough encyclopedia of toxins.

To the writers of mysteries, sci-fi, or horror, however, this book is a treasure chest of deadly delights.

Book of Poisons is a beautifully organized reference. Following an intriguing history of poisoners and an introduction to the work of the toxicologist, the book delves into the details of a bewildering array of poisons neatly grouped into categories:

  • Classic poisons
  • Household poisons
  • Poisonous plants
  • Fragile fungi
  • Snakes, spiders, and other living things
  • Medical poisons
  • Pesticides
  • Industrial poisons
  • Street drugs
  • Biological, chemical, and radiological weapons

Every toxin in the book is cross-indexed by method of administration, form and appearance, symptoms, how soon they act on the body, and their toxicity rating. There’s even a chapter on inventing your own, fictional poison.

Entries are brief and easy to read, yet detail each poison’s appearance, effects on the body, and legitimate uses.

If you’re writing a story that involves poisoning, accidental or deliberate, this is the one indispensable reference for your research. I highly recommend it: five odorless, colorless stars out of five.

About John Doppler

Author, cruciverbalist, serial hobbyist... John Doppler blends science, art, and humor into a delicious smoothie of chaotic evil.
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