Review of Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder, by Holly Tucker

Cover of Blood WorkI’m due to donate blood again this week (yay?).  In honor of the fact that I can save a life during my lunch hour and get a cookie for it, I read the non-fiction book, Blood Work.  Guys, this book is so, so gross – but it’s also so, so good!

This book tells the story of the first blood transfusion experiments, in England and in France (most of this book involves France) in the seventeenth century.  It centers around the efforts of Jean-Baptiste Denis to successfully transfuse blood between animals of the same species, and then from animals to humans.  When Denis attempts to cure  Antoine Mauory of insanity, and Mauroy dies, Denis finds himself involved in a murder trial that determines the future of blood transfusion experiments for the next one hundred and fifty years.

I love books that tell me something about history and/or science in an entertaining and accessible way, this book fit the bill perfectly.  It’s amazing how many things find their way into this book – realistic automatons, philosophy, a pirate doctor (!), domestic violence, the Plague, the Great Fire of London, politics, dungeons, wars, mythology, science, and lots and lots of intrigue.  The steampunk crowd needs to check out the possibilities of expanding from the Victorian Era backwards into the seventeenth-century – it was an insane time and one in which science was a fad among the rich.  The framework of the murder mystery keeps the book moving quickly despite the large amount of information being conveyed.

You need to know that this book is page after page of horrific cruelty towards animals and not a little cruelty towards humans.  I was too fascinated by the story to be depressed – but not too fascinated to be appalled.  This was the age of dissection and vivisection, a common belief that animals could not suffer and had no souls, and horrific treatment of women, the poor, and the insane.  The book does not shy away from describing these horrors.

The last sentence of the book says, “Transfusion has become a gold standard in treating a broad range of illnesses and injuries, from chronic anemia to blood loss from trauma and surgery – so much so that it is impossible to tally the number of lives that have been saved or improved by the procedure.”  One of those lives has been mine, and I’m very grateful to those who donated blood for me back in my medically turbulent childhood days.  If you’d like to donate blood, check out these sites to get information, find a blood drive, or make an appointment:

The American Red Cross


BTW, if you live in California and you donate through Bloodsource this summer, you can get a free ticket to the California State Fair.  Bonus!

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