The Inheritor’s Powder by Sandra Hempel

The Inheritor’s Powder by Sandra Hempel – A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science is the second book I read by her, with the first being a biography of John Snow called The Medical Detective. I gave that book 4 stars and once again I marked her book with 4 stars, for the same reasons. She digresses from the subject many times and that can be quite annoying at times. The book would have benefited from a family tree for the main story, as there are many people involved and presented in a few words, making it hard to remember which one is which.

The Inheritor's Powder by Sandra Hempel

The book deals with arsenic poisoning, something that was so frequent in the 19th century. It was named the inheritor’s powder due to its popularity with beneficiaries of wills who were eager to get their hands faster on the money and/or property they were to inherit. Arsenic was available at corner shops, not very clearly labelled and easy to mix with food. As always I am amazed by how many people managed to survive the era. Accidental poisonings were very common too, so being certain that someone was intentionally killed was not easy, but the demands from prosecutors was not that high either.

In the book we learn about George Bodle, who was a wealthy landowner from outside London, who died in 1833 after drinking his coffee. The case got international attention and it’s fascinating for many reasons, including that James Marsh was a chemist who attempted to create a test to check for the presence of arsenic. At that point the tests for arsenic were either giving some of the food to a dog or a cat to see if they survive or the less reliable tossing some food/stomach content into the fire to see if there is a garlic smell to it. I loved reading about Marsh.

I have included the book in the science category because she talks a lot about science and the scientific method applied in courtrooms. There is quite a lot on this, presented in a commercial way though, so accessible to everyone, not boring at all. I could have included the book in the history category too.

The Inheritor’s Powder by Sandra Hempel

Details about the picture: red dahlia make an appearance in the book, so I took the picture in the garden with the dahlias in the background
My rating: 4/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: Phoenix Paperback
Year it was published: 2014 (first published in 2013)
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): Science
Pages: 280

About the author: Sandra Hempel is a journalist who focusses on health and social issues. She wrote on medicine in 19th century Britain. Her last book is on 20 devastating epidemic diseases, tracing their history across the world from their first emergence.
Books by Sandra Hempel: The Medical Detective; The Inheritor’s Powder; The Atlas of Disease.
Website & Social Media Links: sandrahempel

4 thoughts on “The Inheritor’s Powder by Sandra Hempel”

  • You know I enjoy books along this line, so I’ve put it on my wishlist. She has another at Amazon that looks interesting, as well. “The Atlas of Disease”
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    • Yes, I might read that one too. I am waiting for another book on pandemics, so I don’t know if it’s not too much reading on disease/pandemics. 🙂

  • I checked this book out in a few places and see that so many other people thought like yourself about the author going off subject quite easily, which they found frustrating. I did come across a cool alternative cover on Goodreads though, so all was not lost! ——— We are always so quick to bemoan the state of drug culture etc in the modern world, but books like this only bear reference to the fact that drugs have been a prominent part of our landscape for generations. ———— I think I would find this book quite interesting, especially as it is not as lengthy as I had assumed by looking at your photo. Thanks for sharing and Happy Reading! 🙂

    • The book is very commercial, so easy to read, with interesting facts and stories, a bit hard to follow at times, but not too problematic overall. It’s not long, 250 pages without notes.

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