Not Too Worried About Nerve Agents? You Should Be…


By Stephen Elliott, Member, CBRNe Society

Toxic – A History of Nerve Agents, From Nazi Germany to Putin’s Russia (Hurst, London) serves as a dark and chilling history of the invention, proliferation and dissemination of nerve agents, written by the experienced, internationally respected chemical weapons counter measures expert Dan Kaszeta. NCT Magazine reviews the latest and most authoritative book about nerve agents – as they were “then” in the 1940s and as they are “now” in 2020.

“Toxic” is the first written comprehensive history of nerve agents. By tracing the spread of these terrible weapons from their origins in Nazi Germany to the modern-day Russian Federation’s intentional use of Novichok in Britain, Kaszeta teaches the reader what they need to know.

Nerve agents are the deadliest means of chemical warfare developed to date, causing certain death through agonizing suffering. The first military-grade nerve agents were carefully synthesised in Nazi Germany, with a massive industrial enterprise built for their manufacturing. While the Nazis committed atrocities against innocent civilian populations, such as the wholesale annihilation of Jews and other ethnic groups, they did not nevertheless use these agents. The victorious Allied Forces were stunned to discover the extensive advancements the Nazis achieved by the end of the Second World War. However, with the coming of the Cold War there was a race to exploit the Nazis’ achievements with nerve agents. The Soviet Union / Warsaw Pact countries and the opposing NATO forces made this knowledge a key element of their bitter rivalry as part of the new arms race beyond the horrific power of nuclear weapons.

The opposing sides of the Cold War sought to use the advances made by the captured Nazi Germans in order to develop their own nerve agents and munitions, amassing huge chemical arsenals.

Gradually, nerve agents spread elsewherearound the world as a weaponised deterrent against superpowers (i.e. nuclear weapons-holding nations)who would intent toinvador attack these countries. Nerve agents were first deployed in the Iran–Iraq War, followed by the terrorists in Japan.Despite arms control efforts and mutually agreed disposal of national stockpiles, nerve agents were used again in the Syrian Civil War against a targeted civilian population and then by individual assassins in Malaysia and the UK, targeting private citizens. Nevertheless, building, testing and disposing of nerve agents is– in it self–an extremely difficult undertaking, with sometimes, as Kaszeta calls it,“bitter consequences.”

“Toxic” recounts the grisly history of these weapons of mass destruction: a deadly suite of invisible, odourless killers that cause untold suffering, death and contamination. The reader will find “Toxic” to be a necessary book for their professional library and a very valuable reference guide to understanding the motivations and technical aspects surrounding the ever-present nerve agents. 

You can order Dan Kaszeta’s book “Toxic” from Hurst online:


Dan Kaszeta runs a London-based firm specialising in chemical weapons attack counter measures. He previously worked for the Technical Security Division of the US Secret Service attached to the White House.

Hurst is an independently owned non-fiction publisher based in central London, in the heart of Bloomsbury. Founded in 1969, Hurst now publishes ninety books annually, building on its strengths in African Studies, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, South Asian Studies, War and Conflict Studies and History and Politics.  

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