Robert Templer

A Basilisk Glance

A cultural history of one of our deepest fears

Poison—invisible, unknown, hard to detect and deadly—taps into hard-wired anxieties about the risks of the world around us. From ancient times to the modern age, it has always created more fear than any other threats.

In A Basilisk Glance: Poisoners from Plato to Putin, author Robert Templer takes us through the dark maze of poison. He traces its path from when Hercules dipped his arrows in the blood from the severed head of the Hydra to the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War in 1980s, from the death of Socrates to the use of toxins as a weapon of assassination, from the mass suicide of Jonestown in 1979 to the sarin attack in the Tokyo metro system.

Today, as the war in Ukraine rages, we are reminded of the use of radioactive and nerve weapons by Russian President Vladimir Putin to kill his opponents. His targets—like other victims of poison through the ages—know that they are never safe; a cup of tea, a door handle or even their own underwear might be tainted with a deadly toxin.

In this panoramic survey, Templer also shows how history is littered with the bodies of those killed for poisoning or being seen as poisonous. Pogroms against Jews, the burning of witches and the murder of slaves are extreme expressions of the fear that came from the lack of understanding of the risks of poison.

A Basilisk Glance brings together scientific, cultural and social history to explore the meaning of poison through the ages. It examines how this fear—real and imagined—took hold, how it has maintained a grip on everyone from the most powerful figures of history to the poorest on the planet, and how it persists today.

Publication date:

World release 3 September 2024

£12.99 | 448 pages

978-1-7394243-4-3 | Paperback

978-1-7394243-7-4 | ebook

“Through many vivid interviews and brief, crisp essays on economics, politics, culture, and society, Templer reveals the contemporary problems of a government mired in socialist rhetoric but looking forward to reform and global participation.”
Library Journal
“A meticulous and fascinating investigation into the reality of life in contemporary Vietnam.”
- The Guardian

Praise for Shadows and Wind

The author

Robert Templer is a journalist, writer, lecturer and policy consultant. Educated at the University of Cambridge and the University of London, he is the author of the highly acclaimed Shadows and Wind: A View of Modern Vietnam (Penguin, 1999).