Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution

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In December 1667, maverick physician Jean Denis transfused calf's blood into one of Paris's most notorious madmen. Days later, the madman was dead and Denis was framed for murder. A riveting expos of the fierce debates, deadly politics, and cutthroat rivalries behind the first transfusion experiments, Blood Work takes us from dissection rooms in palaces to the streets of Paris, providing an unforgettable portrait of an era that wrestled with the same questions about morality and experimentation that haunt medical science today.

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Editorial Reviews

Deborah Blum
“Smart and addictive.”
Boston Globe
“Ingenious, engaging,
and disquieting. . . . Tucker masterfully narrates a rich tale about the competing passions of faith, politics, and knowledge.”
Seattle Times
“Multilayered and engrossing . . . a riveting story.”
The Economist
“Excellent....Ms. Tucker’s chronicle of the world of 17th-century science in London and Paris is fascinating. A meticulous historian, she paints a compelling picture of rivalries and politics among the various English and French academies and their members.”
Wendy Moore
“A fast-paced and fascinating ride through a dark and devious period in science, Blood Work is a witty, insightful, and skillfully written book that sheds light on the mysterious story of blood transfusion.”
Katherine Howe
“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.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393342239
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/21/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 329,419
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Holly Tucker is an associate professor at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Medicine, Health & Society and Department of French & Italian. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Table of Contents

Note on Translations xi

Dramatis Personae xiii

Prologue xvii

Chapter 1 The Doctor and the Madman 1

Chapter 2 Circulation 14

Chapter 3 The Age of Vivisection 28

Chapter 4 Plague and Fire 37

Chapter 5 Philosophical Transactions 58

Chapter 6 Noble Ambitions 77

Chapter 7 "How High Will he Not Climb?" 87

Chapter 8 The King's Library 102

Chapter 9 The Philosopher's Stone 114

Chapter 10 The Blood of a Beast 127

Chapter 11 The Tower of London 136

Chapter 12 Bedlam 155

Chapter 13 Monsters and Marvels 474

Chapter 14 The Widow 184

Chapter 15 The Affair of the Poisons 193

Chapter 16 Chimeras 211

Epilogue 227

Blood Transfusion: A Chronology 233

Acknowledgments 235

Notes 241

Bibliography 265

Illustration Credits 291

Index 293

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 22, 2011

    Loved this historical tale

    Blood Work is a non-fictional account of the first blood transfusions which took place in England and France during Scientific Revolution in the 1600s. If you've ever read any historical fiction or non-fiction from this period and onwards through the 1800s, you'll notice odd medical practices like blood-letting for illnesses. Leeches, draining, and more were done to bring the body back into balance through the humors. If you've never heard of this practice, I think it's mentioned in at least one of Jane Austen's novels. Holly Tucker also notes that George Washington had this practice done. Wow. Never knew that. When blood transfusions were first thought up and carried out by the curious and educated, I find it odd that they didn't see it as a way to make up for lost blood, but as another way of treating an illness of the body or mind. I loved how these men pursued the quest for knowledge and how England and France kind were in kind of a scientific war over this. Quiet fascinating and at times very disgusting. I have to admit that I felt so sorry for all the animals that were worked on during their practices. But they eventually moved on to humans and this is where most of the drama unfolds. Blood transfusion became a religious, moral, and national problem. Transferring blood between human and animal or even human and human might possible interfere with a person's soul and even worse turn someone into a hybrid with animal and human characteristics! Or so they believed. History books like these are the type I adore. It's well research and jammed packed with all sorts of interesting characters and aspects of life during this period. We get a glimpse into the court life of the Sun King, Louis XIV, as his Academy of Sciences opposes blood transfusion. We get a vibrant look at people like Jean-Baptiste Denis who try to make a name for himself by becoming successful at blood transfusion almost at all cost. Henry Oldenburg, a German-born philosopher working in England who is imprisoned because he is a foreigner and therefore suspicious. And one of my favorites, Henri-Martin de la Martinière, who ran away from home as a young boy, became a pirate then physician. I'd love to read more about him. As for the murder...well you'll just have to read the book for that one. As a side note: I was reading this the other day when I had a doctor's appointment. As I was getting some blood taken, the nurse noticed the book title and asked what it was about. When I told her she looked a little shocked and then asked why I was reading it. That actually made me think. While I totally enjoyed it, it does seem like an odd book to just pick up. Then I read Holly's epilogue and I came to understand what it was. She wrote, "early animal-to-human transfusions were a case study for larger political struggles, religious controversies, and cutthroat ambitions during the late seventeenth century." And it doesn't stop there. She wrote that she became aware that she needed to write this book when she heard President Bush's speech in 2006 wanting to prohibit animal-human embryonic stem cell research. Wow. Is history trying to repeat itself? And that's why I was reading it and enjoying it. It's a fascinating historical tale that provides a new outlook on modern controversies. Thanks Holly!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2012


    This book was wonderful. I enjoyed every fact-filled and well-researched paragraph.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    Nice way to learn about a fogotten historical topic


    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 22, 2011

    A little short but good

    Would have been better with more detail. Publishers probably had her cut a bunch out. Excellent sources and references throughout.

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