The Poisoner’s Handbook

The Poisoner's Handbook is the widely praised, riveting story of two unsung heroes of Jazz-Age New York, a pair of scientists fighting both to catch killers and create the science of forensic detection. A national best-seller, named by Amazon as one of the top 100 books of 2010, the book has been optioned by PBS and translated into numerous other languages.

As the Penguin Press catalogue says: "Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner’s Handbook, Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime."

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, Penguin Press, February 18, 2010

Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner’s Handbook – chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler – investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey’s Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others.

The Dallas Morning News:

In this bubbling beaker of a book, she mixes up a heady potion of forensic toxicology, history and true crime. Her account of the ongoing battle between scientists and killers in Jazz Age New York is more startling than any CSI: NY script.

Publisher’s Weekly:

“The pacing and rich characterization of a first-rate suspense novelist.”


“Caviar for true crime fans and science buffs alike.”


“As hard to walk away from as a CSI marathon”


“Reads like science fiction, complete with suspense, mystery and foolhardy guys in lab coats tipping test tubes of mysterious chemicals into their own mouths.”

New Scientist:

“a fascinating rogue’s dispensary of poisons"


“Will put CSI and Law and Order Writers to shame”

The Barnes and Noble Review:

“Extraordinary literary alchemy”


Ghost Hunters

From Publishers Weekly Starred Review. In a compelling tale with resonance for today, Blum evokes a surprising sympathy for her band of tough-minded intellectuals—among them philosophers, psychologists, even two future Nobelists—who, around the turn of the 20th century, pursued the paranormal in an attempt to bridge the gap between faith and science at a time when religion was besieged by the theory of evolution and a new scientific outlook. Blum, who was nominated for an L.A. Times Book Award for Love at Goon Park, tells it straight, never overdramatizing the strange events. She achieves deep poignancy at moments that in less gifted hands could have seemed most laughable. The result is a moving portrait of a fascinating group of people and a first-rate slice of cultural history.

Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death, Penguin Press - Paperback published May 29, 2007

What if a world -renowned philosopher and professor of psychiatry at Harvard suddenly announced he believed in ghosts? At the close of the nineteenth century, the illustrious William James led a determined scientific investigation into "unexplainable" incidences of clairvoyance and ghostly visitations. James and a small group of eminent scientists staked their reputations, their careers, even their sanity on one of the most extraordinary quests ever undertaken: to empirically prove the existence of ghosts, spirits, and psychic phenomena. What they pursued— and what they found—raises questions as fascinating today as they were then.

The Daily Telegraph, UK

This is history as you want it to be written. As you finish, you search your shelves for other books by the protagonists, other books on the period. When I picked this one up, I would have told you I didn't believe in ghosts. And now I'm not so sure.

Entertainment Weekly

Tales of the otherworldly have haunted for thousands of years. As Deborah Blum notes in her compulsively readable book, Ghost Hunters, ''Ghosts drifted like smoke through the pyramids of Egypt. Smoldering demons climbed out of fires in ancient Africa. Spirits walked with native hunters in the American forests...After reading Blum's mesmerizing account, you might be tempted to dust off that Ouija board.

The Independent, UK

Deborah Blum's Ghost Hunters: The Victorians and the Hunt for Proof of Life after Death is a fascinating, moving and, most importantly, paradigm-challenging account of the lives and work of the many scientists and thinkers who championed the cause of psychical research. These included Nobel Prize winners such as Lord Rayleigh; a future prime minister, Arthur Balfour; a poet laureate, Tennyson; a knight of the realm, Oliver Lodge; and other notables like Ruskin, Lewis Carroll, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Leslie Stephen, the literary critic and father of Virginia Woolf.


Love at Goon Park

From the American Journal of Psychiatry: “Love at Goon Park is a marvelous and easy-to-read history of the development of what Deborah Blum terms the “science of affection”—a great phrase. She interweaves the biography of Harry Harlow with the development of the science of affection, combining historical scholarship with interviews of people who were involved in his life. The result is outstanding.”

Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection, Perseus Publishing, October 2002

For eons, love was the province of poets and dreamers. Scientists considered it unworthy of real study. Yet, in the middle of the last century, one scientist had the courage and the curiosity to uncover the true power of love, and he forever changed the way we think about human relationships. This is the story of that great transformation.

American Scientist

Blum has written an invaluable story for all students of psychological science, for she shows how science is really done and how its findings are used and often misused. Scientific discoveries are a result not only of a bloodless progression from hypothesis to experiment to refinements, but also of the investigator's personality and passions, and of lucky accidents—who happened to be where, when; who was lucky enough to work with whom. Science also depends on knowing when to follow your hunches and when to change direction, and on knowing the difference between an obstacle in your path and a dead end. Blum brings all of these elements of scientific discovery to life in Harlow's story.

Scientific American

In her 1994 book, The Monkey Wars, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Deborah Blum superbly balanced opposing views of the incendiary issue of primate vivisection. In Love at Goon Park, Blum does an equally skillful job balancing the pictures of that psychologist, Harry Harlow, as troubled soul and brutal abuser of his experimental subjects versus helper of humankind through brilliant science.


The psychologist Harry Harlow was a workaholic, a drunk, a bad father, a neglectful husband and, arguably, an unethical scientist. If his name isn't ringing any bells, that may be why. But Harlow also revolutionized psychology. As Deborah Blum's painstakingly fair "Love at Goon Park" conveys, Harlow's uglier foibles are the fraying edges of an eccentric figure. At his center, though, Harlow was committed to an undeniably good cause: love. Such complexities make Harry Harlow a biographer's dream -- and nightmare. Blum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and self-described "primate junkie," criticized Harlow for his treatment of primates in her book "The Monkey Wars." It's clear that in this effort she wants to give Harlow's science, if not necessarily Harlow himself, its due. Regardless, it's a wonderfully written and maddening book, provoking, by turns, both delight and horror.


Sex on the Brain

From Elle: A riveting investigation into the biological differences between men and women…Blum’s incisive exploration cannot fail to amaze, confound and delight readers:

Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women, Penguin, July 1, 1998

Go beyond the headlines and the hype and explore the burgeoning field of gender studies. Drawing on disciplines that include evolutionary science, anthropology, animal behavior, neuroscience, psychology, and endocrinology, Deborah Blum explores matters ranging from the link between immunology and sex to male/female gossip styles. The results are intriguing, startling, and often very amusing. The Los Angeles Times has called Sex on the Brain "superbly crafted science writing, graced by unusual compassion, wit, and intelligence, that forms an important addition to the literature of gender studies."


Blum is a superb science reporter who presents just the right amount of complexity, tries to explain findings rather than just report them, and writes in a consistently clear and pleasant style. Sex on the Brain is such a good window on the state of the art that its only flaws are the flaws of the researchers themselves.

The New York Times Book Review

If the differences between men's and women's brains are uninterpretable, and if differences in their talents and mating behaviors are uncertain, then how about hormonal differences? Men's and women's brains both have receptors for testosterone, but beyond signaling a fetus to develop a male body, no one knows what testosterone does in the brain…Testosterone lowers people's immune functions, makes them edgy and aggressive. One of the estrogens stimulates people's immune systems and makes them smarter. And so on, far into the night. I get tired writing about this. I didn't get tired reading about it, though. Blum manages the tricky art of good science reporting: she has a friendly, conversational tone that is relaxing without being chirpy, she writes clearly and accessibly, and the science is all there. Her narrative carries the reader through this still-maturing subject's lack of coherence.

The New York Observer

An extraordinary roller coast ride over the bumpy intellectual territory – endocrinology, neurology, genetics, anthropology, sociology – between sociobiology and psychiatry.


Sex on the Brain is a highly readable and fair survey of an explosive field. Place it on the book shelf beside Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men by Anne Fausto-Sterling, the feminist biologist who argues that gender differences are culture, "Male and female babies may be born. But those gender-loaded individuals we call men and women are produced." Both women want basically the same political outcome: an equality of opportunity for both sexes. Fausto-Sterling presents her goal as a question, "Do we care that the poorest segment of our population is comprised of women and children?" I am reassured that two women with such divergent beliefs can agree, 'we care'.


The Monkey Wars

From the Los Angeles Times: A candid look at the issues from both sides. No comparable book on this topic exists.

The Monkey Wars, Oxford University Press, December 14, 1995

In The Monkey Wars, Deborah Blum gives a human face to this often caustic debate--and an all-but-human face to the subjects of the struggle, the chimpanzees and monkeys themselves. "As it stands now," Blum concludes, "the research community and its activist critics are like two different nations, nations locked in a long, bitter, seemingly intractable political standoff.... But if you listen hard, there really are people on both sides willing to accept and work within the complex middle. When they can be freely heard, then we will have progressed to another place, beyond this time of hostilities." In The Monkey Wars, Deborah Blum gives these people their voice.


I guarantee that, whatever your current beliefs may be, The Monkey Wars will make you see the whole question of animal research--and much that has been done in the name of science--quite differently.

The New York Times Book Review

[Blum] writes in a straight-forward, informal style, never raising her own voice, and she is scrupulously fair about presenting all sides.


A Field Guide for Science Writers

From Library Journal: This is not a "field guide" in the sense of a reference or guidebook but a report from the field by more than 30 expert science writers from all disciplines. Each writes about his or her own area of expertise, often including a road map that shows how he or she ended up in a series of particularly interesting places, e.g., the New York Times, Science, and the President's Office of Technology. This well-written collection is full of interesting insights into professional science writing and serves as a valuable resource for current and would-be science writers.

A Field Guide for Science Writers, second edition, edited by Deborah Blum, Robin Marantz Henig and Mary Knudson, Oxford University Press, 2006

From the National Association of Science Writers: The best guide for teaching and learning effective science writing, this second edition of A Field Guide for Science Writers improves on the classic first edition with a wider range of topics, a new slate of writers, and an up-to-date exploration of the most stimulating and challenging issues in science. In this collection of essays, nationally known science writers Deborah Blum, Mary Knudson, and Robin Marantz Henig assemble the best science writers working today to explain what they do and how to do it well.

Field Guide combines detailed and practical how-to advice with thoughtful discussions of the challenges of science journalism in the 21st century. It doesn't shy away from addressing such controversial matters as cloning, stem cell research, eugenics, medical overtreatment, and questions of scientific honesty. Offering a comprehensive overview of the field of science writing, this book discusses a broad range of media and sources, from newspapers to broadcast journalism and from corporations to government agencies. It also provides a detailed analysis of some of the hottest fields in science writing — ranging from mental health to human genetics — and covers a diverse array of writing styles, from "gee-whiz" to investigative.

With more than 45 esteemed contributors — people who work for such leading news outlets as Scientific American, Popular Science, Discover, Smithsonian, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal — this book is an invaluable resource for current and aspiring science writers, students and instructors in science writing and journalism, and scientists who are interested in science communication.


Angel Killer

Don’t miss Deborah’s #1 Amazon Kindle best-selling single, Angel Killer, a true story of a cannibal killer who stalked New York City during the 1920s and 1930s. Published by The Atavist, this is a tale of a killer who knew how to stay invisible, a detective who wouldn’t give up, and a trial that shocked the country.

As the Wisconsin State Journal put it: “She steps into the mind of a madman and raises more than a few disturbing ethical questions, along with the fine hairs on the reader’s neck.” Read more

Find it here at The Atavist website.