The story of an infamous poison that left toxic bodies and decimated wildlife in its wake is also a cautionary tale about how corporations stoke the flames of science denialism for profit.

The chemical compound DDT first earned fame during World War II by wiping out insects that caused disease and boosting Allied forces to victory. Americans granted it a hero’s homecoming, spraying it on everything from crops and livestock to cupboards and curtains. Then, in 1972, it was banned in the US. But decades after that, a cry arose to demand its return. 

This is the sweeping narrative of generations of Americans who struggled to make sense of the notorious chemical’s risks and benefits. Historian Elena Conis follows DDT from postwar farms, factories, and suburban enclaves to the floors of Congress and tony social clubs, where industry barons met with Madison Avenue brain trusts to figure out how to sell the idea that a little poison in our food and bodies was nothing to worry about.

In an age of spreading misinformation on issues including pesticides, vaccines, and climate change, Conis shows that we need new ways of communicating about science—as a constantly evolving discipline, not an immutable collection of facts—before it’s too late.

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“The phrase ‘trust the science’ should be replaced with ‘understand how the science gets made.’ This deeply researched, beautifully written, and well-argued explanation of how DDT was sold, misregulated, and resold should scare everyone from the ardent scientist to the fearful conspiracy theorist into rethinking.”—Susan M. Reverby, author of EXAMINING TUSKEGEE

“What Merchants of Doubt did for earlier campaigns of corporate disinformation, How to Sell a Poison does, superbly, for a toxin I thought we’d gotten rid of. Elena Conis’s fast-paced account is all the more important in an era when powerful forces are trying to discredit science.”

Adam Hochschild, author of KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST

“Elena Conis is a historian who writes nonfiction like a fiction writer. In elegant prose, she reveals the often forgotten and captivating history of how ordinary people discovered the dangers of DDT—and persisted in having it banned against all odds and despite false assurances of its safety from public health officials.”

Sheldon Krimsky, author of GMOs DECODED
"Why do we still talk about DDT?  In this provocative and richly detailed retelling of the DDT story, Elena Conis deftly explores why a pesticide banned since 1972 remains so politically divisive. For Conis, the answer lies in the intersection of science and politics, revealing a story rooted in the past, but framed by contemporary political and ecological debates. It is a fascinating story that will resonate with readers trying to make sense of the uncertainty of scientific knowledge in our highly politicized world.” —David Kinkela, author of DDT AND THE AMERICAN CENTURY
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