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Arsenic, space mirrors and amateur naturalism

By Anjana Ahuja   January 2010

Somewhere in the Christmas television schedules there is bound to be a vintage whodunnit involving someone gurgling to death after having downed arsenic. Enjoyable though such spectacles are, spare a thought for the Victorians. According to James C Whorton, author of The Arsenic Century (OUP), most Victorian deaths caused by the favoured poison of novelists were accidental. Arsenic could be found in everything from candles to candies, wallpaper to clothing. Part science and part social history, Whorton’s book—due out in January—promises a vivid account of one of the first-ever documented episodes of environmental poisoning.

If Oliver Morton’s essay on geoengineering,…

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