Bitter Nemesis: The Intimate History of Strychnine

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CRC Press, Jul 16, 2007 - Science - 320 pages
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Encouraged by the medicinal success of quinine, early 19th century scientists hoped strychnine, another plant alkaloid with remarkable properties, might also become a new weapon against disease. Physicians tried for over a century, despite growing evidence to the contrary, to treat everything from paralysis to constipation with it. But strychnine proved only to be disappointingly deadly-relegating its fate almost entirely to animal control, the dangerous adulteration of foods, and criminal exploits.

The NOTORIOUS and TRUE story of how a POISONOUS alkaloid...

Bitter Nemesis: The Intimate History of Strychnine presents a scholarly and compelling history of this fascinating chemical substance from its discovery to present times. A renowned editor for the Dictionary of Natural Products, Dr. John Buckingham fuses his eclectic interests into an extraordinary mix of original research spanning the realms of history, medicine, literature, chemistry, and forensics.

...Changed the course of HISTORY!

Uncovering details and logistics from the earliest experiments performed in an era when proper scientific trials for testing new drugs were still in their infancy, the author explores strychnine's trial-and-error contributions to scientific, medical, and forensic developments. He also investigates historical milestones and the perception of strychnine in popular culture-including criminal notoriety, accidental misuse, and new claims of strychnine's benefits that extend through to the present day.

Juxtaposing the real trials, mistrials, and persistent curiosity associated with one of history's most notorious pharmaceutical failures, Bitter Nemesis offers rare insight into the anarchic, yet inspired landscape, practices, and legacy of 19th century science.

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This is a great book for researchers interested in the medicinal use of plants by 19th century American and English physicians. I enjoyed the witty comments like that on page 78 about strychnine being the" WD-40 of Victorian medicine", although I think mercury holds that position.


Chapter 1 Some Disadvantages of a Weak Constitution
Chapter 2 Nuts
Chapter 3 The Patient Generally Lies on His Back
Chapter 4 M Vauquelins Lack of Fame
Chapter 5 Perfidious Dutchmen Bark up the Wrong Tree
Chapter 6 You Will Be Careful as to the Second Article
Chapter 7 You Hold Him Down Ill Pour It Down His Throat
Chapter 8 Overture to the Sorcerers Apprentice
Chapter 12 Mrs Doves Brush with the Media
Chapter 13 That Clever Dr Letheby So Ugly and Terrific
Chapter 14 Tigers Lions etc Six Hundred Kilograms
Chapter 15 The Blue Anchor Murder and Other Outrages
Chapter 16 I Didnt Know It Was Used for Poisoning
Chapter 17 Is There a Faceless Fiend?
Chapter 18 Another Round of Pay Phone Hysteria

Chapter 9 The Fop the Scotsman and the OpiumEater
Chapter 10 It Will Be the TestTube and the Retort That Will Hang Him
Chapter 11 Shaken in Every Possible Way
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