Review: Modern Poisons: A Brief Introduction to Contemporary Toxicology’ by Alan Kolok

Published by: Island Press

Publication Date: 5th May 2016

ISBN: 9781610913812

Price: Hardback £27.00, Paperback 14.00 (from

I received a review copy from in return for a review – as per usual.


Traditional toxicology textbooks tend to be doorstops: tomes filled with important but seemingly abstract chemistry and biology. Meanwhile, magazine and journal articles introduce students to timely topics such as BPA and endocrine disruption or the carcinogenic effects of pesticides, but don’t provide the fundamentals needed to understand the science of toxicity. Written by a longtime professor of toxicology, Modern Poisons bridges this gap.
This accessible book explains basic principles in plain language while illuminating the most important issues in contemporary toxicology. Kolok begins by exploring age-old precepts of the field such as the dose-response relationship and the concept, first introduced by Ambroise Paré in the sixteenth century, that a chemical’s particular action depends on its inherent chemical nature. The author goes on to show exactly how chemicals enter the body and elicit their toxic effect, as well as the body’s methods of defense.
With the fundamentals established, Kolok digs into advances in toxicology, tracing the field’s development from World War II to the present day. The book examines both technical discoveries and their impacts on public policy. Highlights include studies of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in toiletries and prescriptions, the emerging science on prions, and our growing understanding of epigenetics.
Readers learn not only how toxic exposure affects people and wildlife, but about the long-term social and environmental consequences of our chemicals. Whether studying toxicology itself, public health, or environmental science, readers will develop a core understanding of—and curiosity about—this fast-changing field


My Review

It does what it says on the tin in providing an introduction to toxicology that is accessible. If you got through GCSE Biology you’ll be ably to understand the explanations in this book. The range of material, and examples, covered is an excellent illustration of the wide variety of areas covered by modern toxicology, from naturally occurring toxins, like snake venom, to the concentrations of pharmaceuticals in surface water and bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

The language used was generally jargon free, and where technical words were necessary an excellent explanation was provided. The explanation of biological and chemical processes was clear and concise. Later chapters, concerning antibiotic resistance for example, steered clear of the sensationalism often associated with anthropogenic chemicals and their environmental effects, while illustrating those effects. The explanation of epigentics was especially interesting, especially as regards to multigenerational and transgenerational effects.

There’s a lot in this book and it is all interesting. I recommend it to anyone interested in the applied sciences, or if you just what to know how poisons work. It is a good bridge between a textbook and popular science.



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