Poison, Prohibition, and the Beginnings of Forensic Medicine

Book review: The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum (Amazon / Book Depository) The Poisoner's Handbook came up in Nonfiction November last year, when Silver Button Books mentioned it as an exceptional example of nonfiction that reads like fiction. I was surprised, as I wouldn't guess a book involving chemistry in any form would be so readable,... Continue Reading →

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More Funny Tales From the Quirky Life of John Hodgman

Book review: Medallion Status, by John Hodgman (Amazon / Book Depository) Comedian, author and podcaster John Hodgman's second memoir-in-essay collection, Medallion Status, is ostensibly built around his obsession with the loyalty program of the airline he calls "Beloved Airlines," and the travels, specifically for acting jobs, he's had in connection with earning those miles. It's... Continue Reading →

A Tragicomic Memoir of a Dysfunctional Family

Book review: The Splendid Things We Planned, by Blake Bailey (Amazon / Book Depository) Award-winning biographer Blake Bailey took on a different kind of challenging biographical subject in The Splendid Things We Planned -- his own dysfunctional family. The central point of his memoir, around which everything in this story revolves, is his older brother, Scott. Scott... Continue Reading →

High Strangeness and Lore from the Midwest

 Book review: Midwestern Strange, by B.J. Hollars (Amazon / Book Depository) Professor B.J. Hollars set out, after a challenge from his writing students, to investigate his region's tales of inexplicable monsters and events of "high strangeness," that is, "encounters that are improvable either as events or illusions." I've selected the Midwest as my testing ground... Continue Reading →

Snapshots of the Summer of 1927

Book review: One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson (Amazon / Book Depository) Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. The Federal Reserve made the mistake that precipitated the stock market crash. Al Capone enjoyed his last summer of eminence. The Jazz Singer was filmed. Television was created. Radio came of age. Sacco and Vanzetti were... Continue Reading →

Four Women and their Crime “Obsessions”

Book review: Savage Appetites, by Rachel Monroe (Amazon / Book Depository) For the past few years, as the US murder rate has approached historic lows, stories about murder have become culturally ascendant...whether our tastes tended toward high-end HBO documentaries interrogating the justice system or something more like Investigation Discovery's Swamp Murders. (Or, as was often... Continue Reading →

Fast Food and the American Dream

Book review: Drive-Thru Dreams, by Adam Chandler (Amazon / Book Depository) Drive-Thru Dreams opens with an affecting story about how a prank inspired one of those benevolent gestures from a big company, leading to a feel-good video for social media and wins all-around for everyone involved -- on the surface, at least. It establishes an... Continue Reading →

An Exposé of America’s Low-Wage Workplaces

Book review: On the Clock, by Emily Guendelsberger (Amazon / Book Depository) When the newspaper she worked for closed in 2015, journalist Emily Guendelsberger used the opportunity to pursue a project she'd long been interested in. Over the next two years she worked in some of America's common, controversial low-wage jobs to see what conditions... Continue Reading →

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