This book is a hugely entertaining work of pop history that traces the use of poison as a political—and cosmetic—tool in royal courts, from western Europe in the Middle Ages to today’s Kremlin.
“The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by rivals to their station. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants, and tested their chamber pots” (cover).
A fascinating read, full of anecdotes and shady episodes, this book has a full bibliography and index. One of the features I most like about the book is how it brings the Kremlin’s most recent poisonings into the ongoing history of political poisonings, with a few deep jabs at Vladimir Putin himself—whose “official” biography fails to mention a most nefarious entrée into the political life of Russia.