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Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution Hardcover – March 21, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tucker, associate professor in Vanderbilt University's Center for Medicine, Health and Society, does a marvelous job of chronicling the 17th-century controversy pitting science against religion and shows how much of the language used then against the new technique of blood transfusion mirrors language used today against stem cell research and cloning. In 1667, building on work done in England, Jean-Baptiste Denis, a self-promoting young Frenchman, transfused lamb's blood into a human. His work angered many, including those who believed that the soul was housed in the blood and transfusion was blasphemous; others who clung to bloodletting as a treatment rather than blood transfusions; and those protecting their own scientific reputations from an unknown upstart. When Denis's second transfused patient died suddenly, Denis was accused of murder. Exploring the charge, Tucker unearths compelling evidence that the patient was murdered—by a cabal attempting to discredit Denis. The affair halted all experiments in blood transfusion for 150 years. Tucker's sleuthing adds drama to an utterly compelling picture of Europe at the moment when modern science was being shaped. B&w illus. (Mar.)
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Holly Tucker does an incredible job of bringing the history of blood transfusion to life with harrowing immediacy, spinning a tale of blood, ambition, and murder so gripping that it reads with novelistic intensity. She also reminds us that science itself has a history, that the discipline which we trust to explain our world can also be bound up in the prejudices and assumptions of our own time. Anyone with a taste for historical intrigue will devour Blood Work, just as I did. (Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (March 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393070557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393070552
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #573,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Blood Work tells the true story of the first animal-to-human blood transfusions, performed in the 1660s in England and Europe. These culminated in 1667 in Paris with a series of experiments performed by the rogue physician Jean-Baptiste Denis; the subject of the experiments was an infamous madman who was plucked from the streets against his will. Though the transfusions initially seemed successful, within days the madman had died, and the ensuing political fallout resulted in the suspension of all such studies for some 200 years. Most surprising, at the heart of the story is a conspiracy -- and Denis' opponents had no scruples against committing murder for the "greater good".

The book is delightfully written and painstakingly researched. Professor Tucker does an excellent job making the world of 17th century England and France come alive, and pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of the machinations of the elite politicians, scientists and nobles of the era. There were strong religious and scientific concerns about the safety of transfusions, and these concerns rather ironically mirror the modern fears about "human-animal hybrids" created by genetic engineering. Denis ended up bucking the medical establishment (some of whose members were planning their own experiments) and made powerful enemies in the process; his stubbornness would quickly catch up with him.

The earlier chapters of Blood Work will possibly be a bit slow-going to some readers. There is a lot of history behind the critical events of the book, primarily the medical studies that preceded said events. This background material is essential to the narrative, but is not quite as compelling as the latter parts of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Who'd have guessed that some of the earliest experiments in therapeutic blood transfusion date to the seventeenth century, or that they were performed not between humans but from animals to humans--or that this actually seemed to work?

These are the bare facts of the story Holly Tucker tells in Blood Work, a novelistic mix of history, science, and the politics of Enlightenment-era Europe. Tucker describes how some of the founding Fellows of Britain's Royal Society began transfusion experiments, sparking a scientific race with rivals in France. And then the race was abandoned almost as quickly as it began, when an ambitious French physician's patient died under mysterious circumstances.

Tucker builds her tale from primary documents and illuminates it with beautiful period illustrations. Blood Work is not a long book--I finished most of it on a cross-country flight--but it's dense with detail. It's entertaining history of science, but it also has surprising resonance for today's debates over stem cell and genetic engineering technologies. If you like history, or science--or if you're a fan Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver and its sequels, you should check out Blood Work.
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Format: Hardcover
I've been hearing so much early press on this book--so decided to give it a shot. It's amazing to me how well Tucker weaves fascinating details about the first blood transfusion experiments into a very readable "who done it" mystery. It's a true story that reads like a mystery novel--think Eric Larson's Devil in the White City. Loved Blood Work and would recommend it!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is more about the controversy surrounding human blood transfusions than the actual history of transfusions themselves. I think that many readers (including myself) were expecting something else but after reading the epilogue for the book I have a better understanding of why the author was trying to do and why she wrote the book. I think that it would have been better to explain some of that in the beginning of the book so that the reader would have a better understanding of what the author was going for. That being said, this is still and interesting easy read. The author does a good job of making the time period come alive and the back stories explaining the intrigues of 17th century european politics was very well written. If your looking for a detailed academic study of early work in blood transfusions, you will be disappointed reading this book but if you want to read in engaging story about the general state of medical science in Britain and France in the late 17th century this is a good book to read
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was a good read for medical history, but was not on the same level as other medical histories that I've read. It stalled in a couple of places, and I found that occasionally all the other extraneous information added not related to the story itself, would sometimes be confusing.

I had no idea that transfusion was considered back in the 1600's. All it took was one arrogant physician, trying to push the envelope. And if you've been in medical school, you've seen a few of those. In this case, dealing with such an unknown (they did not know about the cell markers in blood at that point which would cause clotting reactions if people were given the wrong blood type). It's too bad that Jean-Baptise Denis couldn't see our use of blood today, and see how well his idea saves lives today. Now to be fair, he wasn't the first to try transfusion. That definitely belongs to the British. But he tried hard, in spite of religious and medical objections, to demonstrate the possibilities of transfusions. It boggles the mind to consider that if transfusions had been possible that far back (with continued research), the lives that could have been saved in all the wars.

The research for this book probably wasn't easily done. Especially if you had to get rare material in French, from the courts and royal records kept almost 500 years ago. Apparently, the author, Tucker, knows French as well as English, so that explains a lot.

This is a great book to read if you want to understand how far back medical research goes, and many of the obstacles that are put in the way of those who do research.
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