Summary from Goodreads:
The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their chamber pots.
Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’t see what lies beneath the royal robes and the stench of unwashed bodies; the lice feasting on private parts; and worms nesting in the intestines.
In The Royal Art of Poison, Eleanor Herman combines her unique access to royal archives with cutting-edge forensic discoveries to tell the true story of Europe’s glittering palaces: one of medical bafflement, poisonous cosmetics, ever-present excrement, festering natural illness, and, sometimes, murder.
I think, if you didn’t know anything about medieval or renaissance medicine, etc., then I think The Royal Art of Poison would be really entertaining for you. Herman has a great flair for pop history writing (I’ve really enjoyed her Sex with Kings and Sex with the Queen books). But for ME, while it was an enjoyable read I didn’t get much new information out of the book (an epidemiology degree and several history of medicine courses will take the shine right off the topic). However, the most fascinating section was a selection of mini-bios of historical figures who famously were or were not poisoned and whether a modern forensic examination could make that determination. (It appears that some people WERE NOT poisoned, except probably by the raft of Royal Physicians who liked to dose people with heavy metals…which would kill you anyway. With a lot of pain and agony.)
Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.