I’ve tried write this review more than once, and constantly lost the draft before publishing, so this is a one-sitting attempt given that I recently reread the book. I’ll try post more book reviews in future, I haven’t worked out a format yet. I read a LOT of books.
TL;DR: its a good book, you should buy it.
Its also timely, as Dan recently has been involved in a bit of a kerfuffle wherein the absolute brain geniuses in charge of the Civil Service or something in the UK have blacklisted him – preventing him from speaking at MoD backed events. This is an act of dubious legality, and is resulting in Dan working on raising funds for taking the Government to court. Chuck him a few quid at that link, he is fighting the good fight.
So, Toxic is a book about chemical weapons – specifically the history of nerve agents. Dan is a former US Chemical Corps chap, along with also having been in the US Secret Service, and has written extensively about chemical warfare in the past. It is his area of expertise, which really shines through in this book.
I’m only going to cover the contents in real broad strokes here, you should go read it yourself. Its good. 11/10.
Dan takes you on a journey through time, back to before the Second World War, where in Nazi Germany some chemists were trying to come up with better pesticides, and end up inventing the organophosphate nerve agents instead.
The book extensively covers the people, organisations, etc involved in developing these awful weapons in Germany at the time, and then carries on to the post-war era, with in depth looks at the Soviet and Western nerve agent programmes that capitalised on the German discoveries.
The book gets really into the details of pretty much everything you can imagine – from research and development, attempts to create workable weapons from these substances, to the political environment around them. It also covers the incredible issues involved with storing the damn things, and getting rid of them.
Also explored are their use in the Iran-Iraq war, their use by the death-cult Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, their use by the Assad regime against civilians in rebel held areas, and the Russian deployment of Novichok agents in the UK in their attempt to assassinate the Skripals.
You don’t need a degree in chemistry or biology to make sense of the material in this book, its more about the history than the chemistry or biochemistry of how nerve agents work. For those of you who do have a chemistry background, like myself, it may lead you down some interesting paths of research.
One thing I really enjoyed about this book is that it excellently treads the line between “detailed” and “accessible”. It also is just fun to read – Dan is a fantastic storyteller. I’d love to sit down in a pub with him and buy him pints just to listen to him talk about pretty much anything.
Everything is beautifully well referenced, with a bibliography at the end, which is full of further useful and interesting things to read.
All in all, a fantastic book written by a knowledgable author. Would recommend.