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Synopsis

A triumphantly toxic tome. As a dedicated Macinnis fan, I relish this latest display of erudition, story-telling and fun. One of his very best.'

Robyn Williams, Head, ABC Science Unit

Was Abraham Lincoln really as mad as a hatter?

Who poisoned Phar Lap?

Can wallpaper really kill?

Was Jack the Ripper an arsenic eater?

Painting a broad canvas, from the early Egyptians to the arsenical tube wells in Bangladesh and the Sarin gas attacks in a Tokyo subway, The Killer Bean of Calabar explores the accidental and intentional tales of poisons and their use throughout history.

Historically difficult substances to trace, poisons have been used by many for their own dastardly purposes, from the Great Poisoners such as Nero and Madame de Brinvilliers to the mass gassings of World War II.

But the truly great poisoners are those who make selective use of poisons to save human life, not the few who use poison to take human life. Most of the medicines we take are themselves poisons - therapeutic only by virtue of being more deadly to our viruses than to us. Poisons are all around us - from the plants in our gardens and lead in our homes, to the bacteria and toxins in our bodies.

With ripping yarns and unusual views of famous people, Macinnis explains the whys and wherefores of poisons and poisoning.

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