1st Edition

Bitter Nemesis The Intimate History of Strychnine

By John Buckingham Copyright 2008
    328 Pages 21 Color & 1 B/W Illustrations
    by CRC Press

    328 Pages
    by CRC Press

    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.

    Some Disadvantages of a Weak Constitution
    The Patient Generally Lies on his Back
    M. Vauquelin's Lack of Fame
    Perfidious Dutchmen Bark up the Wrong Tree
    You Will Be Careful as to the Second Article
    You Hold Him Down, I'll Pour it Down His Throat
    Overture to the Sorcerer's Apprentice
    The Fop, the Scotsman and the Opium-Eater
    It Will Be the Test-tube and the Retort That Will Hang Him
    Shaken in Every Possible Way
    Mrs. Dove's Brush with the Media
    That Clever Dr. Letheby, So Ugly and Terrific
    Tigers, Lions, etc.; Six Hundred Kilograms
    The Blue Anchor Murder and Other Outrages
    I Didn't Know It Was Used for Poisoning
    Is There a Faceless Fiend?
    Another Round of Pay Phone Hysteria


    John Buckingham

    "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

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

    ". . . well written and it would be highly entertaining light reading by chemists for their sheer pleasure."
    —Joseph G. Cannon, University of Iowa in Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 2008

    "The introduction and 18 cleverly named chapters take the reader through the tangled and confused history of nux vomica … Efforts to use this preparation as a medication are described, along with the more sinister efforts to use this poison to commit murder… [it is] an interesting and educational glimpse into one of the many hallmark natural products that played pivotal roles in the development and evolution of organic chemistry."
    Journal of Natural Products, 2010

    "The book is well researched and thorough. Citations are endnotes to each chapter, and a bibliography and index are included at the end."
    —Scott Zona, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Economic Botany, 2008