Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman

book cover
The Royal Art of Poison
by Eleanor Herman

ISBN-13: 9781250140869
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Released: June 12, 2018

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Hugely entertaining, a work of pop history that traces the use of poison in the royal courts of Western Europe from the Middle Ages to the Kremlin today. 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 Review:
The Royal Art of Poison is about how royals and famous people died in the Middle Ages to the present day from many different causes but blamed an enemy using poison. Sometimes they were correct. The author looked at how people died from poorly cooked food, diseases and filthy living conditions, medications and cosmetics containing poisons, or doctors using excessive bleeding, purging, and other treatments. The author also talked about the various antidotes and preventive methods used by royals to avoid being poisoned.

Then she looked at more than 17 specific, famous people who died under suspicion of poisoning--from Henry VII of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1313 to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821 plus a list of poisonings in Russia and elsewhere in more recent times. She provided a brief biography of the person, a detailed and gory description of their death as recorded at the time, what the people at the time concluded was the cause of death, and a modern forensic analysis of cause of death. When the conclusion was poisoning, she didn't attempt to guess who did it unless someone confessed to it. Overall, the writing style and information kept my interest, but the details of the deaths were a bit gory for me (though necessary for the forensic analysis).

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

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