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Bitter Nemesis: The Intimate History of Strychnine Paperback – July 16, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-1420053159 ISBN-10: 1420053159 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: CRC Press; 1 edition (July 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1420053159
  • ISBN-13: 978-1420053159
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,506,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The book is well researched and thorough. Citations are endnotes to each chapter, and a bibliography and index are included at the end. This book is a cultural history of strychnine, not a natural history, or medical treatise. There is a strong bias to strychnine's place in British, French, and American culture, with surprisingly little information on its origins and use in India and Asia. I found the detailed accounts of murder trials, involving a cast of seemingly thousands, to be hard going, but I enjoyed the rare flashes of Buckingham's dark humor scattered throughout the text."
—Scott Zona, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, in Economic Botany, 62(2), 2008, pp. 192-204

"Mixing science, history, and intriguing true accounts with his own touch of humor, Buckingham has created an enjoyable read for anyone with interest in scientific history."
Books to Note, Spring 2009, Vol. 27, No. 1

". . . Bitter Nemesis is the wonderful result of Buckingham’s passions and perspectives. Clearly, strychnine has come out on top again!" 
—Jeffrey I. Seeman, Department of Chemistry, University of Richmond, in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2008, Vol. 47

". . . well written and it would be highly entertaining light reading by chemists for their sheer pleasure."
—Joseph G. Cannon, Division of Medicinal Chemistry, College of Pharmacy, University of Iowa, in Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 2008, Vol. 51, No. 12

About the Author

Consultant Editor, Dictionary of Natural Products, London

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By PJ Coldren VINE VOICE on December 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
BITTER NEMESIS is a medical and legal history of strychnine, beginning with its origins in India and tracing it through fairly modern times. There was, remarkable as it may seem now, a time when strychnine was viewed as a miracle drug, given on a regular basis as a tonic for women and children. Given the truly awful nature of a death from strychnine poisoning, it is difficult to understand why it fared so differently in the public perception than arsenic, for instance.

Quite a bit of BITTER NEMESIS is devoted to the legal arena. Several court cases are discussed very thoroughly. The acceptance by the courts of forensic evidence, it would seem, owes much to strychnine and its similarity to tetanus. The cases themselves are interesting, and Buckingham's analysis of them is quite thorough.

Buckingham is obviously an academic; there are footnotes for every chapter and an extensive bibliography. This does not mean his writing is dry and pedantic, just that sometimes there is a wealth of information that a reader may not find of interest. Depends, probably, on the expectations one brings to the book. If a person wishes to use BITTER NEMESIS as a resource when writing a mystery in which strychnine is used, the background is certainly there. There is enough information to write about a death by strychnine in enough detail for most readers.

While BITTER NEMESIS may not appeal to a universal audience, for those interested in such matters, it is an eminently readable book for anyone curious enough to track it down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dalton Kinnard on November 7, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Buckingham is a former professor of organic chemistry at London University and the founding editor of the Dictionary of Natural Products, which is the only in depth source of information on natural products. As a whole, I found this book to be interesting, and having very little to do with chemistry, in so much as it did with legal matters and folklore. This book is not for the average reader, and it is apparent that Buckingham is targeting a very specific audience.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of forensic medicine, medical malpractice, and drug regulation.
Chapter one of Bittern Nemesis: The Intimate History of Strychnine, John Buckingham introduces his readers to the culture of academic medicine in 19th century France. Buckingham introduces his readers to Dr. Pierre-Éloi Fouquier, an established physician whose thesis, the Advantages of a Weak Constitution happens to be the namesake of this chapter of Buckingham’s book. Buckingham goes on to describe the state of medical knowledge that led to experimental treatments of patients with poisonous plant extracts, by Fouquier and his contemporaries. Fouquier’s predecessors were men like Galen of Rome who believed that a cure for every illness and disease could be found in nature. An example taken from the sixteenth century is Quinine, the principal ingredient for the bark from the Cinchona tree. It’s success in relieving fever caused by malaria led to the belief that it could be used to treat any kind of fever. Furthermore, because scientific knowledge was relatively primitive, and because people began to assume that the characteristic of quinine that reduced fever was its bitter taste, and that any bitter plant extract shared quinine’s medicinal usefulness.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Howard Mcpherson on May 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
When I saw this book reviewed in Angew. Chem. Int. Eng. Ed. I thought it would be a great discussion of the long, difficult structure determination and the various total syntheses starting with the synthesis of Robert Burns Woodward. However, this book has almost nothing about the chemistry. A brief discussion of Sir Robert Robinson on structure determination and brief mention of the Woodward work is given without any chemical schemes. Page 227 does show 5 formulas that were proposed with structure "e" being the correct one proposed by Robinson, V. Prelog, and Woodward (all three were Nobel Prize winners in chemistry).
Very disappointing. Maybe someday someone will write a book about the chemistry.
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