Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth, By Trevor Norton

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The Independent Culture

The remarkable attributes of the title belonged to scientist Jack Haldane. A man impervious to fear ("April 1915, one of the happiest months of his life, was spent under constant bombardment"), his self-experimentation in a decompression chamber in 1939 caused one of his filled teeth to "emit a high-pitched scream" before exploding. Haldane also burst both eardrums, which left him slightly deaf.

Entertaining and often mind-boggling, this book concerns scientists and others who put themselves in harm's way generally for the public good. In order to test the absorptive properties of charcoal, Pierre-Fleurus Touéry took 10 times the fatal dose of strychnine, while Humphrey Day breathed carbon monoxide.