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  1. By Richard Kluger
  2. The Royal Art of Poison
  3. Thy source for the A-Z of 17th-century history!
  4. The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman
  5. Kurashiki Royal Art Hotel (Hotel) (Japan) Deals

Trust me, mercury in tinctures and lead in makeup are just the first of many nasty things that float to the top of the cesspool we once called beauty products and medicine. The Royal Art of Poison is broken into three parts. The first gives us the lay of the noxious land. It includes the silent weapons and their remedies at the disposal of royals and their rivals from the early 15th century to the early 19th. It also includes both the cultural reasons royals might have chosen poison and the precautions people took to protect against it.

Of course, the horns actually came from some unfortunate narwhals and were utterly useless against arsenic and everything else. The variety of unfortunate characters chronicled ranges from Mozart, and his untimely death, to the rather unstable Johan the III, who was poisoned in Sweden in The Royal Art of Poison also contains a sizable amount of modern science. Since their deaths, many of the royals Herman writes about have been exhumed and analyzed — some more than once — by modern scientists.

Based on the evidence found in their hair follicles, skin, and other remains, we are now able to get a better picture of exactly what killed whom. Often, hidden but natural causes were the culprits, but sometimes it actually was poison. In those cases, the question becomes whether the poisoning was deliberate or just the fault of some incompetent court physician or a deadly new cosmetic. Impossibly bizarre?

By Richard Kluger

The Royal Art of Poison is all of the above, and you should keep reading. Now, those who know me can attest to the fact that I read a little bit of everything, but this book was outside of even my usual territory, and that's saying something. It is precisely what its cover advertises: an examination of the storied history between the European monarchy and poison of all sorts.

Tl;dr Europeans loved poisoning each other, especially in the 16thth centuries, but they also loved accusing each other of poison while inadvertently poisoning themselves. Eleanor Herman divides her book is divided into three sections. In the first, she covers various ways in which European nobles would poison and make themselves sick without even knowing it. Among other things, cosmetics and medicines often contained lead, arsenic, and mercury; people didn't believe that bacteria were a real thing; and it was considered a good practice to split a bird in half and put it on the head or feet of a sick person to "draw out ill humors.

But it is an excellent and necessary prelude to part two. In the second, she dashes through 17 case studies of historical poisonings or accusations of poison.

The Royal Art of Poison

Combining the historical context of the alleged attempts with both contemporary and modern-day postmortems, sometimes including chemical analysis of human remains, she delivers new insight and possible conclusions as to what really happened see the end of this review for a body count. This was the best part of the book by far, swirling with rumors and commentary from nobles associated with the situation.

Chapters were brief but not rushed, and the range of names--from lesser-known people like Agnes Sorel to famous kings and even Mozart--is impressive beyond a doubt. In the third, she takes poisoning to the modern era. This is where the book really faltered, and it's the biggest reason for my four-star rating. Honestly, I almost skipped this section halfway through, which is saying something, since it's also the shortest section of the book.

Focusing primarily on Russia, Herman rattles off in rapid succession all sorts of poisonings from within the past hundred years or so, emphasizing that we don't really get false accusations of poison anymore because autopsies better detect it. It's not that the stories aren't interesting, but this section is devoid of the personality and story-like qualities that brought the earlier case studies to life, which causes it to really drag. Couple other random notes: - There are a few pages at the end that describe the exact effects of all poisons mentioned in the book, and a "hall of fame" for poisons, with such dubious honors as Least Painful, Most Painful, and Fastest Acting.

It's an entertaining bit, but I'm not entirely sure why it's at the very end. Like, a lot. It started to bug me after a while, but that's not a huge deal. There is blood and gore, there are bugs and viruses, boils and bruises and body parts turning unnatural colors. It's fun, but it's very gross fun. And now, what you've all been waiting for: the final body count from the case studies. May 30, Diana rated it liked it Shelves: history-read , first-read , finished-need-reviewed , history-disasters-diseasesread , read-in , true-crime-read.

Review to Come. Mar 27, Vfields Don't touch my happy! I enjoyed the last two-thirds of the book very much. Particularly when Herman focused on characters in history I was familiar with. The best part were the modern autopsy results. May 13, Samm Sassenach the Book Wizard rated it really liked it. So basically im gonna be paranoid now lol tons of interesting stories.

I had never thought of doing modern autopsies and toxicology tests on centuries-old bones so thats prefty cool. I don't know about you, but I like my history with a healthy dose of murder. I also like my science with a healthy dose of history and murder science goes down harder so it needs two spoonfuls of sugar.

Added bonus for all involved if there's also mystery and snark. If all of this is sounding intriguing, you must read The Royal Art of Poison. It's not a silly book. The author really has done her homework. And she has pulled together lots of historical documents along with modern medical analysi I don't know about you, but I like my history with a healthy dose of murder.

And she has pulled together lots of historical documents along with modern medical analysis and the occasional modern exhumation to try to piece together which royals may have been poisoned, which may have been poisoned accidentally perhaps by their own hand through makeup, accidentally when people just didn't know certain things were poisonous, or even purposefully by well-meaning doctors trying to cure the royal of a preceding poisoning or other malady , and which may have died by some other medical issue, such as disease, that may have mimicked some symptoms of poison.

Turns out to be a lot of all of the above.

Thy source for the A-Z of 17th-century history!

A lot of royals were accidentally poisoned one way or another. And some thought to have been poisoned weren't. Along the way you'll learn some fun science, about for example how the lead in makeup in the Elizabethan era would destroy your skin, forcing you to wear more and more makeup to cover your ravaged skin, creating a hideous cycle. And also how it may have contributed to Elizabeth's volatile temper in her later years.

Ah, vanity. And boy, being a royal taster was a bad job. Not to mention ineffectual as most poisons are not fast-acting. I also liked the creativity of some poisons, some of which were laughable like opening the envelope of a letter that had been poisoned with a poisonous perfume, supposedly could kill with a couple of whiffs. This was a thoroughly enjoyable history of poisonings, attempted poisonings, accidental poisonings, and assumed poisonings. Much fun! Nov 04, Kathy rated it liked it Shelves: nonfiction.

Interesting and comprehensive but at times the author sacrifices accuracy in favor of writing in a style that will appeal to the general reader. Apr 04, Angela H. I was interested in the topic, but I do not like the execution of the fact presented in the book. Here are the reason why I did not finish the book: 1.

For a nonfiction book, it is written like a historical fiction for first portion where history behind the royal family and speculation on how he or she was poisoned. Then, the second portion focuses on post mortem examination with modern technology. The findings are presented as a nonfiction book. It was stated repeatedly. The introduction was disappointing.

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It left the impression that gruesome facts will be presented. It does present information in details. I didn't like the way the facts were explained. I decided to not finish the book due to losing repeated interest while listening. Mar 03, Erin rated it really liked it.

The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman

First, a word of warning: The Royal Art of Poison is not for people with weak stomachs! Herman offers excruciatingly disgusting facts about the horrors of being poisoned so that the reader knows every detail of the gross things that can happen to the human body after ingesting some mercury, lead, etc.

There were a few times I actually felt sick to my stomach - which is probably just a credit to Herman's descriptiveness. I love this kind of non-fiction that's filled with just the interesting fact First, a word of warning: The Royal Art of Poison is not for people with weak stomachs! I love this kind of non-fiction that's filled with just the interesting facts - including everything from royal intrigue and backstabbing to affairs and murder.

I especially loved the section that broke down several famous poisonings in history including what modern scientists and doctors have to say now. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the book is the end when Herman discusses how poisonings are still occurring today especially with North Korea and Russia. I'd recommend this read to someone who wants to learn some fun, historical facts - and who doesn't mind descriptions of bodily functions and disease! Apr 13, Erin rated it really liked it.

View 1 comment. Jul 27, lady victoriana rated it really liked it Shelves: read-in Do you know what my main takeaway from this was? Medieval Europe was fucking wild. In so, so many ways. Forget the wildly unhygienic conditions, misguided physicians, and rampant poisons, it's a wonder people weren't dropping dead from STDs considering the copious amounts of sex they were having with so many different people. In The Royal Art of Poison , historian Eleanor Herman, in a delightfully witty narrative voice, proceeds to disabuse you of the notion that medieval Europe was in any way ro Do you know what my main takeaway from this was?

In The Royal Art of Poison , historian Eleanor Herman, in a delightfully witty narrative voice, proceeds to disabuse you of the notion that medieval Europe was in any way romantic. She opens the first part of the book with several chapters describing in explicit detail just how filthy the past and its people were. One of my favorite parts was learning that the church claimed washing too much was the stuff of heathens like Muslims, who wash five times a day , so people really just Then there's the lack of plumbing, leading to royal courts literally having to move locations every few weeks so palaces could be cleansed of human waste.

In addition to those horrific conditions, folks were also killing themselves with cosmetics filled with lead and mercury. Doctors, you say? You might be better off refraining from medical treatment, considering most doctors back then would do little more than bleed you and pump you full of semi-poisonous medications that did more harm than good. The second part of the book is a litany of case studies, where Herman proceeds to explore the deaths of various historical figures and determine - was it poison? In the process she provides detailed historical biographies of these figures, giving context as to why someone might have wished to poison them in the first place.

This was fascinating, and reminded me of how much I love history.


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If anyone tells you studying history is boring, give them this book; parts of it are an honest-to-God HBO show. Like, why do TV writers even bother embellishing history, when so much of it is already so damn juicy? The final part of the book brings us back to modern times, where Herman explores current-day uses of poison, mostly in Russia and the Soviet Union.

This portion of the book felt like coming full-circle, as it expounded upon the ways in which poisons have advanced.


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After reading about some of the ridiculous ways people tried to poison one another and avoid poison in medieval times, it was satisfying to read about how sophisticated poisoners are today. Herman's tone is fantastic; she's witty, sardonic, and upbeat while discussing a subject matter that is, all things considered, rather bleak.

It made for a quick, entertaining read! May 06, thereadingowlvina Elvina Ulrich rated it really liked it. Did you know: - Italy was the center of the poison trade in the 16th century and when someone believed to have been poisoned, it was said that, that person was "Italianated" - a new term coined in England. If this did not make your stomach turn but leaving you curious instead, then The Royal Art of Poison is the book you must read.

It is a grossly entertaining read with insightful information from the royals' and also the society in the Middle Ages unsanitary living lifestyle to their insane unhygienic medical practices. I enjoyed reading this book from the witty prose to all the scandalous stories. I appreciate the good structure of this nonfiction which makes it easy and comfortable to read: - Part 1 - Lifestyle of the Royals - from banquet table to their castles - and how poisons were a common ingredient in food, cosmetics, remedies, etc; - Part 2 - Scandalous stories about death of famous people, from Henry VIII in the 13th century to Napoleon Bonaparte in the 18th century; - Part 3 - Advances in poison detection and recent poisoning cases.

This is a well-researched book with a lot of information to digest. It took me a month to read as I was taking it slowly; reading small sections each day, thus making my reading experience more enjoyable. Despite the tons of information in this book, Herman did an excellent job in making this nonfiction such a fun read through her mellifluous storytelling.

It was really entertaining! I was certainly amused by all the peculiar practices of the royals and definitely has gained some insights about poisons. If history is your cup of tea and you enjoy reading about the royals, then this the book for you. A must read nonfiction! Martin's Press through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

All views expressed in this review are my own and was not influenced by the author, publisher or any third party. I adored this.

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This walks you through some interesting history along with the poisons. I was grossed out by only a small section on bugs. Lots of bugs, poo, rotting stuff, animal carcasses, all kinds of human waste from food, to body waste to actual bodies. Jun 19, Mella rated it really liked it. Very interesting read.

Interesting, gruesome and outright disgusting at some points. Anyway, this book gives many details on how doctors treated - or tortured - and sometimes outright killed their patients with their medicines and how people poisoned themselves by using various cosmetics. In another part of the book the author writes about royals, lords and ladies who supposedly have been poisoned. What really happened? Was it poison and if so, what kind and how were they exposed to it? Or were they simply sick? An in yet another chapter we learn that the art of poison is still practiced as of today, but instead of hemlock and arsenic, radioactive poisons play a primary role.

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Jun 13, Jerrie redwritinghood rated it really liked it. I got this book via netgalley in exchange for my review. This was a fun, more lighthearted look at the use of poisons for assassination through the ages. Written in an engaging style, this was an enjoyable read into a tantalizing subject. Jan 26, Jess rated it really liked it Shelves: , historical , nonfiction , audiobooks , illness. Martin's and this is the type of book I can sink my teeth into. I found it a fun if at times squeamish read, but I'm always up to learn new things from other times.

I think I'm happy living in current times. To avoid poison, they depended on I was invited to be part of the blog tour for this book by Clare and St. My thanks to NetGalley, the author, and publisher for the advance electronic copy for my review and the blog tour. Fiction for The American Heroes Channel. Eleanor lives with her husband, their black lab, and her four very dignified cats in McLean, VA. Jul 29, Kris - My Novelesque Life rated it really liked it Shelves: true-crime , nonfiction , arc-netgalley , publisher-invite , history , mystery , blog-tour.

Martin's Press First, I saw the gorgeous cover and was ready to request this book, but then figured I should read the synopsis. I read the intriguing description and clicked on request! I wasn't sure if this book would be to my liking as true crime books can be a hit or miss with me. I don't like the scandalization of murders, but rather learn how it was solved and what we can do to prevent it in the future. Eleanor Herman was going to look into the "poisonings" and deaths of Royalty - history, science and mystery.

These poisonings were not all murder plots. Often, it was just a case of not knowing the consequences of every day things and uses. I was going to write "miseducation", but I am not sure if that is the correct word as there was no scientific knowledge on these consequences. I think Herman does. She gives you the facts in layman terms in a way that is easy to read. In the second part of the book, Herman gives us case studies of which royals were assumed to be poison.

After providing a description on the Royal's demise, she provides the cause of death at the time period and then a modern day verdict. This was the most interesting part to read! The last section of the book is the "modern" look at the science behind poison and of royal poisonings. I believe that Herman in this book balances educating and entertaining readers quite well. It is what kept me reading and interested. I would say that this is probably a book you will go pick up here and there rather than reading it in one sitting. I would recommend that you get the eBook on your phone, as it is a perfect one to pull out while waiting in line or for the bus.

View all 12 comments. From disgusting palace life, to doctors who do more harm than good, this book was right up my ally. But not by purposeful assassination. The majority of these deaths by poisoning were self-administered. Beauty products all contained elements of poison including mercury, arsenic, lead, and ev 4. Beauty products all contained elements of poison including mercury, arsenic, lead, and even Belladonna to dilate the pupils.

Most of which were being caused by the very poisons they were being prescribed to cure them! Feces and urine everywhere! I especially loved the poison index at the end, and the studies of famous people in history who purportedly died from poisoning, and were posthumously studied to determine the more likely causes of death. Essentially, you never EVER wanted to get sick in Renaissance times or you were most likely going to die. If not by the disease, then definitely by the doctors you were paying to treat you. I received a copy of this story via Netgalley, and have provided a review of my own accord.

All thoughts and opinions are my own! What a weird sentence, right? The medieval times were so disgusting and deadly. I literally had no idea just how much filth and disease that floated through the castles. My desire to live in one has diminished slightly. Sure, I knew that life expectancy during that time was low but hot damn, it's amazing anybody lived at all! This book not only talking about different types of poisons and how royalty had a huuuuuge fear of it but how everyday objects used during that time was deadly.

Make up had arsenic and mercury in it. Arsenic was used to "cure" a host of diseases along with everyday ailments. Even eating was dangerous. People would eat raw meat and unpasteurized milk. Bathing was frowned up along with handwashing and the washing of surgical utensils. The list goes on and on. One thing I like to point out whenever I review books like these is readability.

What I mean by this is some non fiction books can be wordy and cause my eyes to glaze over, thus not retaining any of the information I just read. This happened in this book but not as frequently as one would think. I was enthralled and thoroughly disgusted for most of the book. Especially when the different cases of how some famous people died. That was my favorite part. Truly just amazing how far medical technology has come. To think, we, as humans, once lived like that. Also, friends, please be advised. There is slight mentions of animal cruelty. Often, when people were testing poisons, they would give them to cats and dogs to study the effects.

Animals were also given the food and drink of the suspected poisoned human to test if there was actually poison in there or not. It's mentioned periodically throughout the book but it's not super graphic. Take care in your mental health if you decided to pick this book up. Overall, this was a great book. I took a chance on it and it paid off. Martin's Press has yet to steer me wrong. If you guys can handle gross detailed description of illness and death along with mentions of animal cruelty then this will be the book for you.

Although, I can never look at medieval history the same way again. View all 5 comments. Dec 30, wanderer Para rated it really liked it Shelves: non-fiction , historical , 4-stars , read-in-english. Once in a while, I'll take a break from fantasy and read a nonfiction book. This one in particular has caught my attention because I have read City of Lies a few months before - a fantasy book focused on poisons - and wanted to know more about how it worked in real life. I was not disappointed and ended up enjoying myself very much.

The book is roughly divided into three parts and mostly focused on the s. The first one doesn't only focus on a general overview of poisons and antidotes, Once in a while, I'll take a break from fantasy and read a nonfiction book. The first one doesn't only focus on a general overview of poisons and antidotes, but also general hazards people in the past faced and all the ways in which they could have been accidentally exposed to toxic substances. From heavy metals in make-up, to medicine that wasn't, to rampant disease because of poor hygiene they pissed and shat everywhere.

The latter chapter in particular was disgusting, but also at points amusing in an absurd way. The past was a nasty, nasty time. The second tells about 20 stories of people who allegedly died of poison. The circumstances, their lives, and a modern analysis of what happened. This was one of the most interesting parts for me. There's a lot of court drama and intrigue mistresses! Marriage plots! Tuberculosis and accidental heavy metal poisoning were common ways to go.

In the third, we learn how and why poisoning slowly fell out of use on a larger scale over time, and about poisons used in the modern era, in particular by Russia. While the use of poison did decrease, it is by no means a thing of the past. Overall, while the book started off a tad dry and at points read like a list of facts, it eventually changed in a fast, fascinating read. It requires a strong stomach, but I would still highly recommend it to everyone.

Sep 10, The Captain rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction. This be a pop history book that looks at the use of poisons. It was recommended to me by me matey Sionna booksinhereyes. I loved this one and read it in one day. A book of three parts, the first part discusses common poisons, the lack of hygiene, and how medicines and cosmetics were actually inadvertently poisons in disguise. The second part looks at specific deaths of historical figures and discusses how modern science helped determine the true cause of death.

The Medici family, for examp This be a pop history book that looks at the use of poisons. The Medici family, for example, was known for this poison laboratory and gifted other rulers with poisons and instructions for use. The third part deals with poison in the modern world — basically as Russian instruments of death by assassination. This book is chock full of unsavory, fascinating facts.

Apr 04, Mercedes Rochelle rated it really liked it. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.


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Much to my surprise, this book immediately rose to the top of my pile; like sticky candy, I couldn't put it down. Yes I admit to a guilty curiosity about nasty murders and suspicious intrigues; this book satisfied my curiosity and much more. For instance, I knew that King Edward VI died a pain I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Not only do we learn about famous deaths and poisonings, we get a primer on late medieval customs that were toxic, such as the use of arsenic, lead, and mercury in medicines—not to mention the fact that medieval doctors practiced horrible procedures on their royal patients that were much worse than the diseases. For instance, there was poor George III, who refused to take his medicine until he became too ill to object. To correct the humoral imbalance, they gave him medicine to bring on projectile vomiting and diarrhea. They also blistered his scalp and applied leeches to his forehead to draw the evil humors out of his brain, and blistered his legs to pull the humors downward.

Within twenty-four hours of his first treatment, the king was feverish, his urine brown, his feet swollen, his eyeballs yellow, and his blisters festering and oozing pus. Even worse, his mental state deteriorated rapidly. As you might expect, the subject matter is not exactly for the faint-hearted pardon the pun. There is plenty of bile, putrefaction, bloodletting, puss, and hair loss to turn the strongest stomach, but the author manages to deliver the information in such a light-hearted style that she entertains while informing.

Six of her ladies-in-waiting had to sit next to the coffin in shifts, twenty-four hours a day, for over a month…One night an explosion ripped open the casket with a deafening crack, spewing foul-smelling gases and sending the women screaming from the room. Alas, when we get to the modern-day stuff mostly about Putin and Russia , the prose turns cold and sterile, as though not enough time has passed to treat the events with detachment like we see in earlier chapters. Although interesting, it changes the tone and ends on a pretty somber note.

I think the book would have been better off to retain its historical flavor rather than bringing us into the 21st century. Nonetheless, I found this book to be a useful addition to my library and it was full of many interesting surprises. Feb 20, Kathryn Speckels rated it really liked it. Think that combination sounds fascinating? Impossibly bizarre? The Royal Art of Poison is all of the above, and you should keep reading. Now, those who know me can attest to the fact that I read a little bit of everything, but this book was outside of even my usual territory, and that's saying something.

It is precisely what its cover advertises: an examination of the storied history between the European monarchy and poison of all sorts. Tl;dr Europeans loved poisoning each other, especially in the 16thth centuries, but they also loved accusing each other of poison while inadvertently poisoning themselves. Eleanor Herman divides her book is divided into three sections. In the first, she covers various ways in which European nobles would poison and make themselves sick without even knowing it. Among other things, cosmetics and medicines often contained lead, arsenic, and mercury; people didn't believe that bacteria were a real thing; and it was considered a good practice to split a bird in half and put it on the head or feet of a sick person to "draw out ill humors.

But it is an excellent and necessary prelude to part two. In the second, she dashes through 17 case studies of historical poisonings or accusations of poison.