Chemistry, Medicine and Crime
Mateu J.B. Orfila (1787-1853) and his Times

José Ramón Bertomeu-Sánchez and Agustí Nieto-Galan, editors

2006, xxv+306 pp., illustrated, cloth bound and jacketed, ISBN 0-88135-275-6, $52.00

Chemistry, Medicine and Crime


“…Overall, this book represents the most comprehensive work in English that addresses Orfila’s life, work, and influence. As such, it makes a notable contribution to the history of pharmacology, toxicology and chemical pedagogy and raises original connections between the private practices of the lab and their expression and communication to other scientists, physicians and the wider public.”—NUNCIUS

“…Apart from its coherence, another thing that recommends this book is its presentation, with a high standard of editing and an attractive dust jacket. The editors managed to do this and still offer a hardback at a reasonable price; quite an achievement in these days of the plunging dollar. Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in either this central figure in the history of toxicology or the development of scientific expertise in the courtroom.”—Medical History

“…Alors qu’aujourdhui, dans la plupart des livres disponibles, seuls quelques lignes lapidaires ou paragraphes rapides sont réservés à Orfila, Chemistry, medicine and crimeredonne à son oeuvre, replacée dans un contexte scientifique, toute son importance.” —Gesnerus

This collective volume attempts to analyze Orfilia’s life and works from a perspective that is more in tune with recent trends in the history of science. We have tried to show that chemistry, medicine and toxicology cannot be historically understood as fixed and independent disciplines, and that Orfilia’s contributions had a profound impact on the relationships between these subjects during the first half of the nineteenth century… p. viii …“In my opinion the editors have eminently achieved their goal, and I highly recommend this attractive, prolifically illustrated, and most reasonably priced collection to toxicologists, forensic scientists, persons concerned with courtroom expertise, chemists (especially analytical chemists). And everyone interested in the life and work of the founder of toxicology.”—Angewandte Chemie International Edition

“…This volume will be indispensable to scholars and library collections interested in the history of toxicology and should prove useful to those concerned with the history of medicine and chemistry in Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century.” J. Hist. Med.

“…(these) Essays discuss Orfilia’s input into controversies surrounding toxicology and especially arsenic poisoning; the lasting legacy of Orfilia’s regularly updated and translated textbooks; teaching practices of Orfilia’s era; and much more. A fascinating glimpse into the world of a gifted man who dedicated himself to advancing human scientific understanding.”  Midwest Book Review

“…Although the diversity of authors’ topics does not lead to a totally engaging narative, there is much to be learned…”—Bull. Hist. Chem.

Table of Contents



Agustí Nieto-Galan and José R. Bertomeu-Sánchez, Orfila and his Biographers

Antonio García Belmar, The Didactic Uses of Experiment: Louis Jacques Thenard’s Lectures at the Collège de France

María José Ruiz Somavilla, Medical Chemistry in Paris in the Early Nineteenth Century. Fourcroy’s Program and the Reaction of Vitalism

Ursula Klein, Continuing a Tradition: Mateu Orfila’s Plant and Animal Chemistry

Ana Carneiro, After Mateu Orfila: Adolphe Wurtz and the Status of Medical, Organic and Biological Chemistry at the Faculty of Medicine, Paris (1853-1884)

Anne Crowther, The Toxicology of Robert Christison: European Influences and British Practice in the Early Nineteenth-Century

Bettina Wahrig, Organisms that Matter: German Toxicology (1785-1822) and the Role of Orfila’s Textbook

Katherine Watson, Criminal Poisoning in England and the Origins of the Marsh Test for Arsenic

José Ramón Bertomeu-Sánchez, Sense and Sensitivity: Mateu Orfila, the Marsh Test and the Lafarge Affair

Ian A. Burney, Bones of Contention: Mateu Orfila, Normal Arsenic and British Toxicology

Sacha Tomic,  Alkaloids and Crime in Early Nineteenth-Century France

Notes on Contributors


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