Throughout history poison has been one of the main weapons of political, dynastic and romantic intrigue. Even in contemporary times, when poison has lost its associations with witchcraft and sorcery, death by poison holds a particular fear in society that is often witnessed in terms of food scares, or more recently, the threat of chemical and biological weapons. This is a character-driven history, filled with stories from 5th century BC Athens where Hemlock was state poison, to Nero's Imperial Rome, to the Medicis, and 17th century Toffana, a serial poisoner who sold virtually undetectable poison to women wanting to get out of bad marriages. Each historical instance has been chosen to reflect developments in the art of poison, and the book is held together by the themes of how poison and the search for antidotes has driven scientific development, and by how the nature of poison and poisoners reflect differences of culture.The book looks at other, related issues, such as why it is attached to ideas of dangerous femininity and witchcraft, what role it plays in literature and popular entertainment, and how, in the 21st century, poison has become more a question of environmental poisoning or pollution through to industrialisation.
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