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Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution Paperback – 22 May 2012


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Amazon.com: 34 reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A steampunky mix of science, history, and politics 26 Feb 2011
By Jeremy B. Yoder - Published on Amazon.com
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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A remarkable true story of history, science and conspiracy 28 April 2011
By GJ GBUR - Published on Amazon.com
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.

Once the story gets going, however, it is practically impossible to stop reading. Events rapidly gain momentum, and history rushes towards a dark finale that comes to seem almost inevitable. As I said, though, there is a dark secret behind the publicly-known story, and Professor Tucker manages to extract that secret from the historical records. The revelations those records contain are quite amazing, so much so that it is hard to believe that the story is not fictional! When the full scope of the events, and their consequences for medical progress are grasped, the history in fact becomes a tragedy.

There is one other caveat worth mentioning. The story of early blood transfusion is also the story of animal experimentation, centuries before anyone seriously considered the feelings of animals -- and long before anesthesia. The description of experiments on animals (again, essential to understanding the story) is not for the squeamish.

That being said, by the end of the book I was completely transfixed by the tale that was being told. Holly Tucker's Blood Work shares an amazing story with great dexterity, and is well-worth reading.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Thoroughly enjoyable true crime mystery 1 Mar 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Real Page-Turner 28 Feb 2011
By Randi Epstein - Published on Amazon.com
Tucker's Blood Work is a gripping murder mystery that brings us back to 17th century Paris, including the "snake-oiler dealers and charlatans, switch-and-bait artists, street actors, and bevies of other shady characters." These first blood transfusion experiments and the uproar that ensued sound remarkably similar to today's stem cell debates. A must read for anyone who likes a good detective story and anyone who wants to understand the impact of health on society, then and now. (As an aside, the Parisian setting makes for such a colorful back drop).
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
17th Century Tapestry 25 Feb 2011
By Monotreme - Published on Amazon.com
Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution

Holly Tucker's Blood Work is a masterful weaving of medical science and history into an eminently readable and approachable work of rare beauty.

I must confess I resisted reading this book, because in general I'm not a lover of historical drama, either in books or film. But Tucker managed to create a compelling narrative, using the friction between the conservative "Parisian" school of medicine, the upstart "Montpellier" school, and their common enemy, the hated British.

The warp and woof of this story are the politics of world domination, going one way, and the advances in scientific knowledge that connect the Renaissance to the Enlightenment running the other direction.

Tucker describes in detail the nasty, brutish and short human and animal lives that contributed to a now-forgotten scientific advance, the first blood transfusions. These "experiments" (not really resembling anything that happens in a modern scientific lab) exploded the conventional wisdom of the time and yet somehow did not really replace the ancient model of bodily humors with anything better. The mysterious death of Antoine Mauroy begins and ends this gripping narrative.

I recommend this book highly.
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