The Poison Principle : A Memoir about family secrets and literary poisonings

Author(s): Gail Bell

Biography and Memoir | Charlotte

Staff notes: The first thing to say about The Poison Principle is that it will permanently alter the way you feel about the colour green. The second thing to say is that it is very, VERY good - a blend of history, science, memoir and true crime...


For many years Gail Bell knew her family had a secret. A secret double murder, by poisoning, a few generations back. In The Poison Principle, Gail Bell traces the history of poisonings both through her life and family, and, as an avid reader, through literature. She looks at various poisons and their properties, the effect they have on the body, and their decline in use (for murder!) over time. Poisons can also pop up in unexpected places, like green wallpaper and green dresses. Poison plays a central role in many myths, fables and lore, and Gail Bell takes this all in her stride, weaving together many threads in an elegant and engrossing way.


The Poison Principle is the culmination of TEN years of reading and research by Bell, who is herself a chemist and brings this scientific understanding to her writing. We highly recommend this unusual and blazingly intelligent book.


When Dr William Macbeth poisoned two of his sons in1927, his wife and sister hid the murders in the intensely private realm of family secrets. Macbeth behaved as if he were immune to consequences and avoided detection and punishment. Or did he? Secrets can be as corrosive as poison, and as time passed, the story of Macbeth haunted and divided his descendants. His grand-daughter, Gail Bell, spent ten years reading the literature of poisoning in order to understand Macbeth's life. Herself a chemist, she listened for echoes in the great cases of the nineteenth century, in myths, fiction, and poison lore. Intricate, elegant, and beautifully realised, The Poison Principle is a book about family secrets and literary poisonings.


Read it? We also recommend The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein.

$25.00(AUD)

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'Miraculously well written, compellingly readable ... a book of rare distinction.' The Times '[Bell's] solution to the mystery was - and is - a triumph of perseverance ... enthralling.' The Guardian '[The Poison Principle] ... measures out, in small loving spoonfuls, grains of information about [a] family story ... Between the quiet drip feed of her personal memoir, Bell mixes in stronger flavors: ingredients from criminology and psychology, botany and chemistry.' The New York Times 'A gift of a story and Bell tells it to near perfection.' The Age 'An elegantly written memoir about her search for the truth behind her family's darkest secret ... a fine thriller, a richly detailed pharmacopoeia and a splendid dissertation on references to poison in literature.' The Sydney Morning Herald

General Fields

  • : 9781925143379
  • : Brio Books
  • : Xoum
  • : 0.12
  • : January 2017
  • : 210mm X 135mm
  • : Australia
  • : March 2017
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Gail Bell
  • : Paperback
  • : 2nd
  • : English
  • : 256
  • : black & white illustrations