The Poison Principle

Miraculously well written, compellingly readable … a book of rare distinction.

The Times

[Bell’s] solution to the mystery was – and is – a triumph of perseverance … enthralling.

The Guardian

[The Poison Principle] … measures out, in small loving spoonfuls, grains of information about [a] family story … Between the quiet drip feed of her personal memoir, Bell mixes in stronger flavors: ingredients from criminology and psychology, botany and chemistry.

The New York Times

a gift of a story and Bell tells it to near perfection.

The Age, Melbourne

Gail Bell applies Flaubert’s relentless reality in The Poison Principle, an elegantly written memoir about her search for the truth behind her family’s darkest secret.

A book which is a fine thriller, a richly detailed pharmacopoeia and a splendid dissertation on references to poison in literature

Sydney Morning Herald

Bell has distilled a wise and knowing book.

Australian Book Review

It is about as rich and strange a history of this morbidly fascinating subject as one could hope for.

The Age, Melbourne

Drawing on fairytales, literature and medical case histories, Bell seasons and thickens her family narrative with fascinating accounts of the effects and detection of the great poisonings in history, from Cleopatra to Napoleon.

The Weekend Australian Magazine

For somebody trained as a scientist, Bell displays a dazzling aptitude for good writing. This book is a feat of alchemy in itself: a heady brew of scientific fact and the arcane.

Qantas Inflight Magazine

What more could you ask from a book?

Brisbane News, June 2001

Bell, a beautiful writer, elegantly ekes out the mysterious tale of Dr William Macbeth (her grandfather) who was reputed to have poisoned two of his sons in 1927.

The Daily Telegraph

Bell, a chemist, writes engagingly of poisons – how they work, their history and includes case studies. In the course of the story, Bell forms a fascinating profile of poisons.

City Weekly

The tone of the narrative is blackly humorous, good natured, relaxed, entertaining, but precise in its scholarship, as the reader explores such issues as the femininity of poisoning, of power, of beauty and ugliness, of the tragic and comic nature of poisoning, of the potential of everyone to be a poisoner, but most of all, of the clandestine nature of truth, and the way in which historical monsters, and legends, are created.

Suite 101

Socrates, Cleopatra, Shakespeare’s Claudius, Crippen and the St Albans murderer, they all finally lead back to Grandfather Macbeth and the long awaited culmination of Gail Bell’s investigation. It is worth waiting for.

The Canberra Times

The Poison Principle has everything: an intriguing-really intriguing-personal story as a base, and a glorious and eccentric range of facts and stories and reflections about poison in life and literature growing brilliantly out of this base.

Varuna News

an unusual, sensitive memoir written in a thoughtful, lovely tone

Manly Daily

a breath-taking journey via close-lipped relatives’ memories, and an intricate investigation reveals the truth.

Australian Women’s Weekly

A fascination with poisons and a deep family secret full of murder and intrigue has led to a fascinating new book by chemist Gail Bell.

The Northern Star


SHOT is a public service as well as a work of art. [It’s] prose has an exquisite precision.

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The Melbourne AGE

If The Poison Principle’s greatest gift was its willingness to provide a widely digestible understanding of science to its readers, then SHOT will surely deliver one of the most honest and compassionate discussions of grieving to be printed in Australia.

The Brisbane Courier Mail

Far from gloomy or academic, this is a riveting and uplifting read, a book that is gracefully and stylishly written

The Canberra Times

… a searing, personally resonant examination of Australia’s relationship with guns, with a similar gut-impact to Michael Moore’s documentary film on the US experience, Bowling for Columbine.

Australian Bookseller and Publisher

Bell writes superbly. Spare, precise, yet evocative.

The Weekend Australian

… an impressive encore from an author who won the NSW Premier’s Prize last year… extraordinary and engrossing.

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Sydney Morning Herald

… a visceral, compelling, and fascinating book

Sunday Telegraph

…Bell’s fine writing skills has turned an unusual topic into an interesting, lively and absorbing piece of story-telling that never flags for a minute and will appeal to a large audience.

Australian Women’s Weekly

The Worried Well

Gail Bell is an eloquent advocate … Trained as a pharmacist and honoured as a writer, she zeroes in on the manufactured demand for anti-depressants… Her prose is passionate and well-paced, and her argument, for my money, unassailable.

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Diana Bagnall, The Bulletin, Aug 10, 2005

Gail Bell’s essay is a fantastic demolition job—and all the more powerful for the manner in which it combines front-line experience with reflection and scholarship

Guy Rundle, published correspondence, Quarterly Essay Issue 19, 2005

Gail Bell writes evocatively and well. Worrying well. As an “opinion piece” her essay advances valid concerns about the current use and application of antidepressant drugs in our society.

Professor Gordon Parker, published correspondence, Quarterly Essay Issue 19, 2005

Fair, balanced, witty, thorough and literate. What is more, clinically accurate. Your QE article on our notion of unwellness is now a text for my Interns and students.

Tom Sutton, Deakin A.C.T., Fellow (Australian College of Clinical Psychologists), private correspondence.

an intensely literate and thought-provoking essay … a joy to read

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The Sunday Age, 3 July 2005

There’s something deliciously naughty about a writer who is well known for her book on a poisoning in her own family writing a Quarterly Essay about drug companies and medicating depression

The Weekly Book Newsletter, 13 July 2005