Amazon.com link The Hinge Factor
From the wooden horse at Troy to a harrowing photograph snapped in Vietnam, from Robert E. Lee’s lost battle plans to the evacuation of Dunkirk, world history has been shaped as much by chance and error as by courage and heroism. Time and again, invincible armies fall to weaker opponents in the face of impossible odds, when the outcome had seemed a foregone conclusion. How and why does this happen? What is it that decides the fate of battle?
The Hinge Factor is an instructive, fascinating look at how the unpredictable, the absurd, and the bizarre have shaped the face of history in war.
What is the ‘hinge factor’? Basically, it is the pivotal event that led to a particular outcome of battle – from generals despising each other and not coming to one another’s aid, to the weather, to misunderstood orders, to a war-journalist capturing an iconic shot – which turned a nation against a war. It’s a ‘what if’. What if it hadn’t rained at Agincourt? What is it had been cloudy when the Enola Gay dropped the bomb? What if the Trojans hadn’t fallen for the ruse of the Wooden Horse? In many cases, the outcome and possibly history itself would be very different.
The accounts are fairly lengthy but taken from reliable sources (relatively). Yet each and every one reads like a tale of heroes, courage and, often, sheer bloody stupidity. The author is a correspondent – and it shows. He knows his stuff, and he knows what makes a good story and what is important. (check out his Wikipage Erik Durschmied).
The Vietnam account is actually the author’s own account of what happened in those terrible years, and how news coverage changed the tide of that particular conflict.
The accounts make one wonder how many lives would have not been lost if only the General’s hadn’t behaved like morons, if only it had been cloudy, or hadn’t rained, or the retreating soldiers had spiked their own guns. I found it quite a moving book – history does indeed repeat itself first as tragedy and then as farce (Karl Marx).
The account I found most interesting was the Berlin Wall. I remember seeing that on TV – something many people would never believe could happen. Within a few hours the tide that had been building suddenly erupted and flowed inexorably towards freedom for East Germany (as it was then). It was the only revolution and ‘battle’ in history where no blood was shed. But what if the border guards had started firing at the crowds? What if the orders had come to stop the tide of humanity? There would have been a bloodbath.
As usual, I am meandering into history, so back to the book. It’s well written, well researched, thought-provoking and a must for lovers of history, fate and military history.
Eurekaaargh!: A Spectacular Collection of Inventions That Nearly Worked – Adam Hart-Davis
This work presents 100 stories of weird and wonderful inventions, full-blown and well-developed disasters of what seemed to be brilliant inventions that fell at the first fence, or sometimes the second, like the first steam-powered submarine, still lying on the seabed off North Wales.
I love books like this – the real and rather sad history of things. Most of us remember learning about the Montgolfier balloon; the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk; George Stevenson and his steam engine; and other notable inventors. But what about those that came before and failed? Or did not have the money to patent their invention? Or those whose inventions were too far ahead of their time to be viable. This is a book about these folks – the men (mostly – sorry ladies) who tried (and sometimes died) to better mankind with gadgets and machines and came to a sorry end.
Mr Hart-Davis has done his homework and tells a good tale. The tone is light-hearted, yet informative. There is enough information to draw in the reader but not so much as to get boring, or confusing. One could dip in and out of this book, entertain one’s friends with it, or simply wonder at the ingenuity and foolishness of people.
Please note most of these are British inventors.
Recommended for fans of history.
Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and their Victims – by Katherine Watson
From Mary Ann Cotton, the Victorian serial murderess, to Dr Crippen, poisoners have attracted a celebrity unmatched by violent killers. Secretly administered, often during a family meal, arsenic (the most commonly-used poison) led to a slow and agonising death, while strychnine (with its characteristic bitter taste) killed very quickly. Poisoned Lives is the first history of the crime to examine poisoning and its consequences as a whole. Unwanted husbands, wives or lovers, illegitimate babies, children killed for the insurance money, relatives, rivals and employers were amongst the many victims of these calculating killers. Difficult to detect before 1800, poison undoubtedly had its heyday in the nineteenth century. In response to many suspected cases, forensic tests were developed that made detection increasingly likely, and the sale of poisons became more tightly controlled. Because of this, twentieth-century poisoning has become a crime largely associated with medical professionals including, most recently, Dr Harold Shipman, the world’s most prolific serial killer.
Many of the true crime books focus solely on the murders themselves, as one would expect. Usually the same twenty or so crimes are discussed and not often in detail. This book is different. Over 500 cases from 19th century to the early 20th century are included, although many as comparisons and not in detail. That said the author does a great job of discussing the ‘whys and wherefores’ of the crimes – the societal aspects, how they changed, the rise of the police force, and the increased awareness of poisoning as a crime. Before the 1900s sanitary conditions amongst the poor were dire, life expectancy short and infant mortality high. Many of the cases discussed, and the situations covered reflect this – people poisoning as to not have another mouth to feed, to get a few pounds from the ‘burial clubs’ which sprang up, ostensibly to help the poor, and the new ‘life insurance’ schemes which abounded. Poisoning is viewed as the most despicable of crimes; usually it is a slow and very painful process, and often the perpetrator is well known to the victim – spouse, parent, servant, nurse/doctor. It’s easy to judge by the modern standards when life expectation is relatively high, health provision freely available (in the UK at least), a social security system, divorce attainable, much less stigma on illegitimacy and very few people are truly desperately poor. Oh and poison is much harder to get. But one must realise that sometimes disposal of an unwanted, violent spouse, was the only way out some people could see. There were simply no viable alternatives.
Watson discusses the changing views and social ideas – the emerging rights of women; ideas pertaining towards mental illness; religious and moral ideology and the rise of the forensic scientist, the role of the coroner and much more. It’s a potted history which changes vastly over time. This, I think, is the most fascinating aspect. There is no sensationalisation of the cases – which sometimes appears in books on true crime – the subjects are dealt with in a sympathetic way. It’s a book of tragedy – lost lives, destroyed lives, desperation and the depths of human misery, but there is also hope. Murder by poison is rare now and more easily diagnosed. And society is not as brutish, or terrifying as once it was for the common person.
Well researched, well argued and highly interesting I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime, 19th Century history, the rise of science and the social reasons for crime.
By John MacLeod
I rarely rate a book this low, and if I do I have usually stopped reading it. I like history, and this was a turbulent time in British History. In fact, it was the only time Britain has been a republic (only for a few years), and it changed the British monarchy forever.
The Stuarts were far more interesting than this author makes out – and more varied so here’s a potted history.
Mary, Queen of Scots: infant queen regnant (most unusual as women rarely came to the throne on their own account); wife to the French Dauphin and would have been Queen of France had her young and sickly hubby not died; married a totally unsuitable nobleman – Lord Darnley (not royalty – shocking for the time); possibly complicit in his murder (which was shoddily done); watched her probable lover murdered in front of her eyes; third equally unsuitable husband Lord Bothwell (he kidnapped and raped her, forcing her into a marriage); deposed; exiled; executed by her cousin for being involved with a treasonous plot to bring back Catholism and usurp the English throne.
James I (and VI): son of Mary and first husband Lord Darnley (probably); first king of England, Ireland and Scotland (sorry Wales you were already under the English then); King for 57 years in Scotland and 21 years in England. Also came to the throne as a baby – after his mother was deposed. Inherited a realm divided by religion and governed during his minority by 4 different regents; intelligent, and a good scholar he is perhaps best known for the King James Bible – which was translated and produced in English during his reign. He was obsessed with witches and witchcraft – but not in a good way and many people were executed for this ‘crime’ during his reign.
James was probably gay, or at least enjoyed gay relationships with various men at court – although he did his duty and married to produce an heir. His ‘favourites’ were often rather unscrupulous (by today’s standards) and he was manipulated by them – much to the annoyance of parliament – who wanted to do it. He was married to a 14-year-old Danish Princess (Anne of Denmark). His eldest child died of typhoid, his daughter married to become the ill-fated Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia, and his son Charles succeeded him. Yes, that’s the Charles who annoyed parliament so much they chopped off his head….
Charles I: Poor old Charles I. He wasn’t a bad man, but he wasn’t a good king. Or at least Parliament didn’t think so. He married a Catholic (and a bossy one) – which did not go down well in the largely Protestant Britain, and kept asking for money to fight costly and unpopular wars. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings – basically the King answered to no one but God Almighty. Parliament also had issues with this, funnily enough. The English Civil War went on for 9 awful years and the country was left rather in chaos during this time. Largely it was a religious war but it was also a conflict of a stubborn king who refused to concede any power and a miffed parliament who thought the king and his Catholic cronies had far too much. It’s possible that over a 190000 died in England from a population of just 5 million from causes related to the war (sickness, wounds, death in battle) and many more were exiled. In the end the Roundheads were victorious and the King was executed. I think this was the only time an English monarch has been executed by the state (excepting falling in battle, or by a foreign power, or dubious circumstances whilst in exile/imprisonment). Charles managed to protect his family – they fled to the continent and had a difficult decade living in exile from the goodwell of various foreign lords and princes.
I will miss out Oliver Cromwell and the Commonweath – only because they weren’t Stuart blood but if you want to learn more this is a good place to start.Oliver Cromwell
Charles II : Charles II was handsome, charming and a darn sight smarter than his old man. He made concessions when he had to and was smart enough to let Parliament have some power. He was also an inveterate womaniser – his official bastard progeny numbered 14 and there were probably lots more. Unfortunately, legitimate issue was 0 surviving – his Queen had a number of miscarriages and was unable to have a child. Despite legions of mistresses Charles stuck by his barren queen, even though he was urged to discard her.
Charles was keen on the arts, was a bit of a rogue but brought an air of jolity back after the rather dismal years of the protectorate. He was also tolerant of religion but was careful in his dealings with Catholics (who were still deeply mistrusted). He converted on his deathbed.
He was succeeded by his brother James II, VII…. not a popular king. James was rather arrogant, an obvious Catholic, and probably suffered from some serious mental issues (not surprising really as his father was executed for treason). He married Anne Hyde (also not royalty) and then tried to shirk off the marriage. His two daughters would become Queens in their own right, but his second marriage to a Catholic Princess (Mary of Modena) was the final straw. James was far more intolerant than his brother, and less of a statesman. Eventually he was deposed in favour of his son-in-law and nephew, and his daughter (who married her cousin…) – they would jointly reign as Mary II and William III.
He survived rebellions, plots and although he was finally deposed (by his own daughters) he kept his head (unlike his father).
No one wanted civil war again and so when William and Mary were ‘invited’ to take the crown it was done surprisingly bloodlessly. Trouble in Ireland (that was reflected to the present day) marred the reign, and they were sometimes held to be usurpers (James and his faction would try and regain the throne for James, and his heirs for many years to come, causing turmoil and bloodshed aplenty particularly in Scotland).
William fought the French (England was at war with our neighbours across the channel on and off for nearly a thousand years until the peace which came after the second world war) and was often absent. Wars were costly (and unpopular – nothing changes much).
He may also have had homosexual relationships with courtiers and favourites, but he was deeply upset when Mary died of smallpox. He died after a fall from his horse and the dubious medicine of the time.
Queen Anne was perhaps the most tragic of the Stuart monarchs, and she was the last (depending on who you ask… Jacobites looking at you). She had many health problems, including mental health (as did most of her line) and lost seventeen babies and infants. Which did nothing to help either her physical or mental wellbeing. She had problems with her sight, and later in life became obese (her coffin was nearly square), with the associated problems of being overweight. She also oversaw the Act of Settlement – which finally united Scotland, Ireland and England into Great Britain and not seperate countries. (Some would argue this wasn’t a good thing and the countries would be better off running themselves but that’s a debate for another day).
Anne was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier but she was, by many accounts, kind, dutiful and did her utmost to be a good queen. She was also passionate and emotional- and her various intense friendships with women, including the Duchess of Marlborough (who was quite unkind about her later). She survived Jacobite plots to put a half-brother on the throne and the aftermath of the War of Spanish Succession.
So anyway… about the book….
I was quite disappointed by this book. Way too much of the author’s own opinion in this. I found it rather anti.. well everyone really.
No one came out of it well (although to be fair the history of the Stuarts is not the most glorious) but there was a rather anti-gay, anti-catholic, tone to the book. In one place he described homosexuality as a ‘sin’. Technically it was then – but that was not the context of the sentence, or at least didn’t seem to be. There had been previous mentions about the various alleged and supported gay relationships of the monarchs but these were generally portrayed in a negative way. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be like that but it came across that way.
The subject matter is interesting, but it reads a bit like a sensationalist newspaper. I’d have liked more on Queen Anne, she was the last Stuart monarch and barely got much of a mention. What was said was basically she was stupid, dull a bit of a non-entity.
It wasn’t all bad – there was an element of amusement in some places, and the author is passionate about the subject (opinions aside). The chapter on Mary Queen of Scots was interesting. It was also interesting to see the history from the Scots perspective.
I’m sorry but I wouldn’t recommend this to history lovers – there are better and less biased books on the market.
Today’s team review is from Liz, she blogs here https://lizannelloyd.wordpress.com/ Liz has been reading The Betrayal by Anne Allen The Betrayal is set mostly in Guernsey but in two eras. First, we find ourselves in 1940, where Teresa Bichard is distraught at leaving her husband, Leo, on the island while she flees to her family on […]
*Name: Danny Letham
*Tell us a bit about yourself: Raised on a Scottish moorland farm, I spent much of my adult life in various Scottish and English cities and now live near the North Wales Coast. My work background is software development and systems analysis, specialising in commercial, financial, and manufacturing systems. Born into a musical family whose other stock-in-trade was teaching, I was a mobile deejay in my teens, and these days I can gossip for Britain about many musical genres.
How did you become involved with audiobook narration and production? While I’ve always liked to talk, the impetus came in the form of the usual story: suggestions from friends and relations. I was very aware that merely being the “natural” that those good folks suggested was not enough, and indeed the well-intentioned encouragement might not even have been true. So, from about 2012 onwards I researched and self-trained with the help of Patrick Fraley’s tutorials and a few other sources. Meanwhile, before my wife’s death in 2016 I had gradually withdrawn from the world of I.T. to become her full-time caregiver, and since then I have reinvented myself as a narrator, video maker, and digital artist. I first encountered ACX through Mr. Fraley.
Tell us about some of the titles you’ve narrated. Do you have a favourite amongst these? You’ll have worked out from the foregoing that I have only just taken the plunge. So, for the time being I don’t have much to say here. I have a computer full of material that will never be seen or heard in public, kind of like those early Beatles recordings made in Hamburg. (Dream on, Danny!)
Do you have a preferred genre? Do you have a genre you do not produce? Why is this? I’m a non-fiction kind of a guy really, who aspires to biography, history, the education sector, and corporate reads. I have a high regard for the better fiction narrators and am not averse to characterisation, but not every title is an Agatha Christie mystery and although I have my moments and can run the gamut of SATB timbres (baritone and mezzo are my best) I’m not quite in the same league as David Suchet. What folk tend to overlook, though, is that within the vast tract that is non-fiction there is every bit as much of a need for nuance and sense of scene. Which isn’t to rule out the right novel, of course; never say “never”. That said, I am minded to avoid so-called “Adult” material but I’d not reject an otherwise suitable title just because it had some adult content; however it would have to be very good read. On the other hand, given that I have a well-developed avuncular style for kids’ books there is an obvious conflict, so “Adult” is not a market I would target.
What are you working on at present/Just finished? I have just arrived on Audible as narrator of a kids’ title written by Victoria Zigler, called “Eadweard: a Story of 1066”. That title attracted me partly for its historic interest but significantly also because of its ethic; as a lad who never wanted to be a soldier myself I identified with its busting of the myth. The ten-year-old Danny repulsed by the “It’s a Man’s Life” TV recruitment campaign would have loved that book.
Ongoing, from a business perspective I am looking at ethical advertising both in sound and on video more so than audiobooks, but additionally in the medium term I have my eye on a couple of older works which are now in the Public Domain and for which I would assume the role analogous with rights holder as well as that of narrator.
*Tell us about your process for narrating? (Be as elaborate as you like.) Step One is, sample it and improvise reading one or two previously unseen passages. See how it FEELS. That instinct is important, and I try to carry it with me throughout the creative process at the same time as balancing it with self-directing. Next, read the thing end to end; if you don’t do that you can paint yourself into a corner either with a wrong characterisation as the plot unfolds or, in non-fiction, with a compromised counter-argument. Try a few more passages as you go along, and revisit former ones. Note how different the passages you improvised feel when they are re-encountered. Rehearse. Mark the text with cues and emphases while progressing, considering any surprise inflections that might work to keep the audience engaged. Rehearse again. Set milestones. Go on the mic, for no more than half an hour at a time; after that amount of time mistakes will multiply. Avoid becoming a slave to the punctuation, especially if that punctuation is mechanised. Repeat whole sentences or at least clauses where you notice at the time there has been a blooper, without pausing. Then get technical with NR, EQ, and all that stuff. When editing bear in mind that sometimes it’s better to splice than merely to cut. Sometimes there is no option but to overdub, but don’t do that yet. Open a list of overdub requirements. Listen back, repairing any pops or clicks etc, while identifying any more overdubs. Listen again, following the text closely looking for misreads. Rely on it; there will be some, and consequently more overdubs. Each overdub is a miniature run of the “mic NR EQ pop click etc.” cycle. Cry, scream, and yell, when the sound palette of the overdub doesn’t match the main body of your narrative. Rinse and repeat. FINALLY (um, not really finally) submit your Thing Of Beauty. Cry, scream, and yell, some more when the rights holder sends a list of …. overdub requirements! Rinse and repeat. Oh, and that other chap who waves his arms? Me too.
I didn’t mention mixing just now. I always record vox in mono but where music or SFX is involved I will decide based on the specifics of the case whether or not to mix in stereo. If it’s narration only, it stays in mono unless I need to emulate physical activity. However, they never needed a stereo mix in the days of Steam Radio, did they? We have lost a lot these days, with the “live” imperative supplanted by all this tech, and yet I am mindful of babies and bathwater. I prefer to use Adobe Audition. Some freeware is absolutely magnificent, but Audition’s visualisations and its brush and lasso repair tools in particular are all but indispensable. In the end you get what you pay for.
What aspects do you find most enjoyable? In a sentence? I like the sound of my own voice! No, in all seriousness, performing is the buzz; I can’t say that I love the technical aspects. I did discover recently when invited to do a live reading that the dynamic is entirely different from studio work, so now I am looking to add that to the repertoire on a permanent basis.
Do you consider royalty share when looking for books to narrate? If not why is this? I certainly do. I think it unwise to dismiss either royalty share or finished-rate. Every project has its own business case. It depends on what balance you need to strike from time to time between visibility, prestige, and cash flow.
Do you listen to audiobooks? Not very often because in my limited leisure time I tend to read, looking for performance material! I spend more time listening to podcasts online. The audiobook that I have enjoyed the most – ever! – is David Suchet’s reading of “Death on the Nile”. Such characterisation! He is especially able when “doing” the women, and then there is all that over-the-top emoting, and excellent timing resulting from the great sound editing and audio engineering. What’s not to love? It is a lesson in the proper use of tech to give an enhanced performance experience. One of my bugbears is that the unavoidable pauses in “he-said-she-said” dialogue passages go unedited because of production time constraints. And people have been trained to like it, even to consider it best-practice. For me, while it’s fine in a live situation on a recording it just jars.
*With many people owning MP3 players do you think this is the future of storytelling? Yes and no. It’s unfortunate in some respects that the old way is almost extinct, of Wise Old Heads occasionally reading from a book but frequently improvising around a detailed memory. There is nothing quite like a live performance in which the narrator responds to the audience’s cues and maybe interacts with them. The best stories can be retold with near-infinite variation – consider how folk music works. In my dreams at least, I foresee that style of performance returning as ordinary people’s reading comprehension skills continue to diminish – which I believe they are doing regardless of the A-level statistics. For now, though, as a society we are going through a “more of the same” loop in which hearing the same story repeatedly in exactly the same formulaic way is the “four legs good” of our era, and whether we like it or not the playback device is king. Equally, the playback device is an ideal medium for disseminating listen-once material, superior to radio because of its on-demand nature. In that context word-of-mouth, social media ads, and the Infernal MP3 Machine are the narrator’s best friends. Just as the phonograph paved the way for excellence in musical performance we must hope the MP3 does the same for narration, although in my view we aren’t quite there yet.
Why do you think audio books are becoming so popular? The commuter lifestyle has a lot to do with it. The world of the past that I have described has largely been mechanised out of existence, and indeed that is the case even away from the urban cycle – in agriculture, for example, productivity demands shackle us to our tractors and our milking machines more than ever before. Changes in the popular music scene have made recorded music significantly less attractive to many than it has been previously, so the advent of affordable and – importantly – portable technology with which to hear something interesting is bringing the audiobook to the masses just like the Dansette did popular music half a century ago.
Has ACX/Audible fulfilled your expectations? (such as earnings, ease of use, workload etc.?) It’s too early to say as regards earnings, but actually, I think it more realistic in my situation at least to seek prestige and visibility than it is to expect Big Bucks directly. It is an easy platform to use in the technical sense, while in another respect it falls somewhere in between an effective hiring fair and a useful additional networking tool, not so much with peer-to-peer networking (to steal an I.T. term) as in the wider literary community. Having said that, I think the signal-to-noise ratio in terms of networking opportunity is less than ideal.
Have you ever had a negative experience producing a book? Every experience is a learning opportunity. If you don’t see it that way, that is a negative in itself.
Please tell us a silly fact about yourself. People perceive me to be fearless but… while obviously, I wouldn’t choose to do so I would wrestle a Rottweiler (and probably lose), and yet I have an irrational fear of chickens.
Where can we learn more about you?
Website with onward links is here: http://www.thevoiceofdaniel.com/
For repertoire and samples , go straight to soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/dannyletham
If you want to check out Victoria and Danny’s work – please use the links below.
Barnes & Noble:
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eadweard-Story-1066-Victoria-Zigler/dp/1539534472/
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Eadweard-Story-1066-Victoria-Zigler/dp/1539534472/
Amazon Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/Eadweard-Story-1066-Victoria-Zigler/dp/1539534472/
The Book Depository:
This is not your run of the mill true crime book, it’s a good deal more – with scientific analysis of the poisonous elements and interesting chapters on other uses. Each element only has one or two murder cases discussed in detail, and the rest comprises of more scientific information, such as a particular element’s place in the natural world, whether we need it to survive and medical or industrial uses. There are cases discussed dealing with accidental imbibing, including historical hypotheses (such as Napeoleon’s arsenic-laced wallpaper, Roman emperors and lead poisoning, and unsolved cases where poisons may have been involved. Some of these deaths turned the course of history (such as the mental illness and infertility of many of the Roman leaders, the madness of King George III, and the death of Bonaparte.
It’s interesting to trace the history of such elements, some of which were (or are) used in a medical capacity. One such example is Fowlers Solution – a medicinal tonic and treat-all which was arsenic-based; overdoses were a reality and adding a little extra to the mix was not unheard of. This concoction was responsible for more than one end – a helping hand was given or self-inflicted. James Maybrick (who was at one point considered a candidate for Jack the Ripper), was poisoned with arsenic. He was, by many accounts a self-dosing hypochondriac and was using Fowlers Solution, amongst other ‘medicenes’. His wife, Florence, was tried for his murder (after distilling arsenic from flypapers – also a Victorian practice to produce a face wash). Florence had an affair (or a couple) and was mostly tried on this behaviour, proving the hypocrisy of the time as James had a mistress and five illegitimate kids. Did she do it? The jury thought so but many advocates of her cause say she was innocent and the poison was taken by James himself, or planted by family members who didn’t like her. My point is – there were legitimate uses for poisons in the right quantities.
The rising technology and scientific method in the 19th century led to arsenic, antimony and other poisons being more easily traceable. Many of the symptoms of the poisoning would resemble other illness, particularly gastrointestinal disorders, dysentery etc. at a time when food hygiene and personal hygiene were rather lacking.
See links for Marsh Test
Mercury based medicine came to be used in the treatment of syphilis, but mercury and mercury vapour are toxic. In many cases the mercury would kill the patient if the syphilis didn’t. Mercury was often seen as a wonder element; it was even thought to prolong life in China and Tibet, and the ancient Egyptians used balms and tonics made from mercury compounds, and the Romans used mercury cosmetics.
This unusual element was at one time thought to be First Matter, from which all other metals derived, and alchemists used it (and were poisoned by it) in the search for transmutation.
Its unusual properties gave an almost mythic status but this dangerous metal caused all sorts of unpleasantness. Mercury usages in industry include use in batteries, dentistry, paper and paint manufacturing, and gold and silver mining. Artists used vermillion paint, which is made from cinnabar (a mercury compound) and it’s thought many of Van Gogh’s mental health illnesses could be linked to mercury poisoning from his paints.
The wiki page for mercury poisoning states: ‘ Common symptoms of mercury poisoning include peripheral neuropathy, presenting as paresthesia or itching, burning, pain, or even a sensation that resembles small insects crawling on or under the skin (formication); skin discoloration (pink cheeks, fingertips and toes); swelling; and desquamation (shedding or peeling of skin).
Mercury irreversibly inhibits selenium-dependent enzymes (see below) and may also inactivate S-adenosyl-methionine, which is necessary for catecholamine catabolism by catechol-O-methyl transferase. Due to the body’s inability to degrade catecholamines (e.g. epinephrine), a person suffering from mercury poisoning may experience profuse sweating, tachycardia (persistently faster-than-normal heart beat), increased salivation, and hypertension (high blood pressure).
Affected children may show red cheeks, nose and lips, loss of hair, teeth, and nails, transient rashes, hypotonia (muscle weakness), and increased sensitivity to light. Other symptoms may include kidney dysfunction (e.g. Fanconi syndrome) or neuropsychiatric symptoms such as emotional lability, memory impairment, or insomnia.
Thallium was used in medicine as a ringworm treatment – one of the effects is hair loss so a patient would be given thallium so any ringworm or other parasites could be treated. It was the standard use for hair removal for 50 years. Thallium is used to make lenses, in smelting, and insecticides. There have been ancient and modern cases of it being used for evil. For me the most interesting case example was the Graham Young case, as the man in question came from a town not far from where I grew up (Bovingdon). I’m familiar with the case from previous books but this account was detailed and complimented the scientific accounts of this metallic poison.
The great Agatha Christie used thallium as the murder element in her story The Pale Horse – where she describes the effects of this poison, which was little known at the time. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-poison-prescribed-by-agatha-christie-thanks-to-the-mystery-writer-the-deadly-properties-of-1534450.html
Overall as a book on poisons and murder this is certainly one of the better offerings. The author clearly has done a good deal of research, and chosen suitable but not always common cases to review. The scientific side of the poisons is rarely put forward in such books. Perhaps not a book for the casual reader, as some knowledge of chemistry would be a help.
Recommended for true-crime buffs, historians, and those who enjoy the science of crime.
OK let’s start with the good.
The author is obviously interested and passionate about her subject; it’s quite a specialised topic and research has been done. It is not a book which would appeal to everyone but it is a worthy read for people who like make-up and women’s history. Each chapter covers an era and the changing attitudes and tastes. I found the social aspects the most interesting – attitudes changed from women being branded as prostitutes if they wore cosmetics to it being considered odd if they didn’t in the space of a few decades. The history of the foundation (get the pun?) of some of the fashion houses and brands. particularly the older ones created by and for women was also pretty good.
The author covers everything – a brief mention of ancient cosmetics, to Victorian values, to rouge, compacts, eye make up, hair, punks, yuppies and hippies. It’s interesting to see how looks change, even within our own lifetimes, but also how some of the ‘fringe’ looks and lifestyles cling on (goth, punk, hippy). The chapter on wartime cosmetics was particularly good – how did women improvise, and harken back to older times with home-made and more natural products.
There is also a good discussion about the downsides of some of the cosmetics – lead in face whitener, hair products that eventually made you bald, and the increasing regulation on cosmetics as it became a really big industry.
Now the bad. This would work much better as a print book. The Kindle version has lots of formatting errors, typos and the pictures are small and hard to see. The errors eventually got really quite annoying (maybe it’s the writer in me). I don’t usually mark down books for this but there were so many!
I’d recommend this – but only the print version.
Review- Judy: A Dog in A Million
The impossibly moving story of how Judy, World War Two’s only animal POW, brought hope in the midst of hell.
Judy, a beautiful liver and white English pointer, and the only animal POW of WWII, truly was a dog in a million, cherished and adored by the British, Australian, American and other Allied servicemen who fought to survive alongside her.
Viewed largely as human by those who shared her extraordinary life, Judy’s uncanny ability to sense danger, matched with her quick-thinking and impossible daring saved countless lives. She was a close companion to men who became like a family to her, sharing in both the tragedies and joys they faced. It was in recognition of the extraordinary friendship and protection she offered amidst the unforgiving and savage environment of a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia that she gained her formal status as a POW.
Judy’s unique combination of courage, kindness and fun repaid that honour a thousand times over and her incredible story is one of the most heartwarming and inspiring tales you will ever read.
If you only read one book in your life read this book. And have the tissues to hand, as you’ll need them!
A puppy born in Shanghai started her life of adventure and courage by running away from her siblings, mother and human carers. Judy was finally rescued and adopted by the Royal Navy as a ship’s mascot on HMS Gnat, and then patrolling the turbulent and dangerous waters of the Yangtze river, during the China/Japan conflicts. She fought pirates, gave early warning for hostiles and increased the morale on board. Later assigned to HMS Grasshopper Judy and her crewmates were engaged in warfare against the Japanese in World War Two and in 1942 the ship was torpedoed. Not only did Judy survive this but she pulled men to safety, found water on the largely hostile island the survivors of HMS Grasshopper and HMS Dragonfly found themselves and fought with local wildlife to protect her companions.
Judy and the soldiers trekked hundreds of miles – hoping to reach safety in Sumatra (then a British protectorate). They were too late, as it had fallen into Japanese hands.
Taken to a POW camp in Northern Sumatra the sailors, Judy included, were taken to the very pit of hell. One particular man shared his meagre rations with a starving dog and a life-long and incredibly close friendship was born. Smuggled out of one camp and into another via a sack on the back of her human (which saved Judy’s life) she again was a rescuer when the ship transporting the captives was torpedoed, with great loss of life. She dragged men towards what little floating wreckage there was, and pushed wood towards others when she was too exhausted to drag anyone else. The death count would undoubtedly have been higher that day if Judy had not been there.
The men were forced to work on the Pekanbaru Death Railway, and again Judy was there to keep soul and body together (such as there were then) and would even steal food from under the noses of the captors in order to help feed the starving, emaciated men she loved.
Primarily this is her story, but it’s also a story of human survival and the enormous capacity for love between humans and dogs. She kept man and mind together in the darkest days, with her love and her loyalty. More than one man is quoted in the book that they would not have survived those terrible months and years without her. Lives were risked by men and dog every day in the fight to survive, and the fight to stay together.
Awarded the Dicken Medal (the animal VC) for bravery the citation stated -“For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness.”
The author, clearly, has researched this book well, speaking to some of the remaining survivors of the terrible camps, and terrible days. She truly was ‘a dog in a million’.
For more information about the Dicken Medal – go here: https://www.pdsa.org.uk/what-we-do/animal-honours/the-dickin-medal
For more info on Judy’s remarkable life please see the links below.
For more information on the Pekanbaru railway (believe me it’s not easy reading). http://www.pekanbarudeathrailway.com/