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Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce [Kindle Edition]

Douglas Starr
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Essence and emblem of life--feared, revered, mythologized, and used in magic and medicine from earliest times--human blood is now the center of a huge, secretive, and often dangerous worldwide commerce. It is a commerce whose impact upon humanity rivals that of any other business--millions of lives have been saved by blood and its various derivatives, and tens of thousands of lives have been lost. Douglas Starr tells how this came to be, in a sweeping history that ranges through the centuries.
With the dawn of science, blood came to be seen as a component of human anatomy, capable of being isolated, studied, used. Starr describes the first documented transfusion: In the seventeenth century, one of Louis XIV's court physicians transfers the blood of a calf into a madman to "cure" him. At the turn of the twentieth century a young researcher in Vienna identifies the basic blood groups, taking the first step toward successful transfusion. Then a New York doctor finds a way to stop blood from clotting, thereby making all transfusion possible.

In the 1930s, a Russian physician, in grisly improvisation, successfully uses cadaver blood to help living patients--and realizes that blood can be stored. The first blood bank is soon operating in Chicago.
During World War II, researchers, driven by battlefield needs, break down blood into usable components that are more easily stored and transported. This "fractionation" process--accomplished by a Harvard team--produces a host of pharmaceuticals, setting the stage for the global marketplace to come. Plasma, precisely because it can be made into long-lasting drugs, is shipped and traded for profit; today it is a $5 billion business.
The author recounts the tragic spread of AIDS through the distribution of contaminated blood products, and describes why and how related scandals have erupted around the world. Finally, he looks at the latest attempts to make artificial blood.
Douglas Starr has written a groundbreaking book that tackles a subject of universal and urgent importance and explores the perils and promises that lie ahead.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1535 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (5 Sept. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #693,912 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I originally took this book out of my local library to do a research project for my final exam in History. Since the culmination of my research, I have rented this book three more times in to read it for my own enjoyment. The topic of blood is purely fascinating. Starr has brilliantly written a book that informs the reader of important issues, as well as being entertaining and thought provoking. The reader gets a profound understanding of the importance of blood that spans from the 17th century, though World Wars, and through current problems with AIDS in the world's blood supply. I have never read a nonfiction book that has kept my attention as acutely as this one. This book is truly one that you'll want to keep.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bloody Marvellous 12 Aug. 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An entertaining account of blood from a cultural and medical perspective that's studded with individual stories and historical context. I found it extremely interesting, learning a great deal about the challenges faced by the medical profession when developing blood transfusion into a reliable, lifesaving process and beyond. The scope of this book is enormous but I particularly enjoyed the insight into how medicine moved from quackery to a scientific discipline.

The book is not that easy to get hold of in the UK - I had to buy 2nd hand, however, I am glad I did and would happily recommend this excellent book to others.

It is very readable and littered with facts that will make you more interesting to people with an interest in blood-facts.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 10 Mar. 1999
By A Customer
This is a very thorough, and thoroughly interesting, book about blood. It might be hard to imagine that one substance could be the subject of a facsinating history, but it is just that. This book is almost like a series of stories, one building upon the other, and it has ignited my interest in medical history generally. I wholeheartedly recommend.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read this book. 12 Nov. 1998
By A Customer
Once I started this book, I couldn't put it down. The author tells the story of blood in a lively, well-researched manner. His descriptions are riveting, sometimes chilling, but always informative and exciting. His stories about the players in this industry are so compelling that you think you know them firsthand. The latter parts of the book, about AIDs and the safety of the world's blood suppy are disturbing yet teach us important lessons about public health. This book is destined to become a classic.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars epic yet concise 30 July 2002
By Lori L. Graham - Published on
Although I defer to Mr.Haschka's expertise in the field of blood, I must take issue with his snippy comment about Mr.Starr's affinity for bad news. I found Blood to be well-balanced-- he labors mightily to present good news and noble accomplishments alongside the tales of negligence, ignorance, and good old-fashioned greed. Yes, he does report on the tainted blood in great depth but let's face it-- mistakes advance science as much as, or even more than, successes, and should be accorded the appropriate amount of space. As far as repetition is concerned, I admit that I haven't read Mr.Shilts' tome, but Blood is perfect for those of us who are interested in the HIV crisis in the larger context of the industry as a whole, and in light of earlier discoveries. The book lost me a bit in its lengthy discussion of the business complex, but the information is important in order to understand how the impact of new discoveries (and mistakes) are felt worldwide. The history of blood is nothing less than riveting, how mysticism and individual hubris has given way to science-- and how they have simultaneously coexisted and been at loggerheads ever since. A formidable subject, nicely covered in a single volume.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Admirable, Informative Review of A Vital Industry 6 April 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on
I've worked in the blood industry for almost 30 years, in the front trenches (hospital blood banks/transfusion services) and in the rear support areas (community blood centers, research institutions, and pharmaceutical/medical device manufacturers) in technical, sales, marketing and production management positions. For me, Starr's admirable volume works best during the first half, when the historical evolution of blood and blood product therapy from the 17th century up to the end of World War II is described. After that, it becomes repetitive of the excellent work previously authored by Randy Shilts, "And the Band Played On". The hepatitis and AIDS crises of the late 20th century have certainly revealed the various international and national elements of the blood industry to be conservative, cantankerous, shortsighted, jingoistic, sometimes lacking in social conscience, occasionally unethical, often self-serving to the point of greed, and with leaders of monumental egos. Sounds like any other human group endeavor to me. What else is new? Maybe an industry that provides wire clothes hangers might be more idealistic, but I doubt it. The bulk of the later chapters is "bad news". But then, to the author, who is a former newspaper reporter, the only news worth telling would naturally be bad news.
In any case, Starr has clearly done a mountain of research. I would highly recommend this book to anyone outside of the blood industry who wishes to understand the broad mechanics of collecting, preserving and distributing blood and blood products. I would also recommend it to a person such as myself, immersed in the day-to-day technology of getting blood to the patient, who has never been exposed to the history of the art. Personally, I don't view the book as a "thriller", though it has been so described by other reviewers. It's a solid, informative description of an industry in constant change. Some might say turmoil. As an example of the latter (not mentioned by Starr), many agencies concerned with the blood supply are adopting a stance promoting "universal leukoreduction", i.e. the practice of depleting cellular blood products (both Red Blood Cells and Platelets) of white cells, or leukocytes. Contaminating leukocytes are known to cause immune suppression, CMV virus transmission, and refractoriness to platelet transfusions. This universal leukoreduction is being promoted by national professional and regulatory agencies (which got burned by the AIDS scandal) for political reasons, by the blood filter vendors for obviously commercial reasons, and more or less by practicing physicians in the field. There is the counter view that universal leukoreduction will cost the patient-consumer, or his insurance company, too much, especially since it's not been proven that all patient populations requiring transfusion need leukoreduced blood. Thus the current brouhaha, yet to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Maybe Starr can write a second epilog.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book but makes many omissions 29 Sept. 2003
By Justine Cardello - Published on
I borrowed this book from the library to help me with a lengthy article that I am writing on the history of blood banking. If I wasn't doing in-depth research, like combing through medical journals and scientific papers, I would have given this book 5 stars. However, Starr makes many omissions and skips vital facts, and I fail to understand why. For example, he credits Richard Lewisohn with discovering the use of sodium citrate, to keep blood from coagulating. However, nowhere does he mention that Lewisohn was not the first to use it in a successful transfusion. Two doctors published results right before he did, and another one gave a talk to the Nationl Acaademy of Sciences a month before Lewisohn published his results. Lewisohn is credited with finding the perfect formulation, and that is where credit is due. But Starr makes it seem that Lewisohn was the only one doing this research.
He completely leaves out the work of Rous and Turner, who first used glucose to expand the life of red blood cells--a necessity in blood banking. He also completely omitted WW I--amazing! That's when the very first blood depot was set up and stored blood was used for the first time.
I've found that he has embellished some personalities and downplayed others. He made it sound like no one was doing blood transfusions until Carrel's fateful night when he saved the baby, but in fact, they were being performed.
Anyway, this is a good book and I am surprised to find these glaring flaws in it. I found it useful as a background for my research, but I don't understand why he chose to write it this way.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Non-fiction at its best. 6 Dec. 2001
By Miss Bella - Published on
From to animal-human blood transfusions to the mobilizations of donated blood for Normandy to the battle for blood-as-commodity, this riveting, epic history of medicine and commerce promises to keep you reading all day and night. You will gain a new respect for the Red Cross and for modern medicine, and you will most likely rush out to donate blood after cringing through the pages describing the problems in the Blood Services Complex. Incredibly well-researched, fascinating and enlightening.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cookies, juice and money 23 April 2003
By A Customer - Published on
This book makes the history of medicine, especially blood, interesting, and accessible to anyone. It also exposes the blood industry, GOOD and BAD, with names and dates of the people who moved it along: the medics in World Wars who risked their lives, the brilliant and tempermental researchers, and the greedy. Starr gives you well-documented facts and lets the reader decide, as a good writer should, who is the bad guy. This book doesn't tug as much at your heartstrings as Bad Blood: Crisis in the American Red Cross by Judith Reitman, but that's by far an advantage. She would have you believe that just because people died (of AIDS, and Hepatitis), there must be someone in the blood industry at fault. There certainly is some fault to go around, but this book helps you decide who and why there is fault, and tells both sides of the story without leaving Reitman's huge empty gaps in the evidence.
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