Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker


On a cold day in December 1667 the renegade physician Jean Denis transfused ten ounces of calf's blood into Antoine Mauroy, a madman. Several days and several transfusions later, Mauroy was dead and Denis was framed for murder. A riveting and wide-reaching history, Blood Work shows how blood transfusion became swept up in personal vendettas, international intrigues, and the war between science and superstition. In a foreshadowing of today's stem cell and cloning debates, proponents saw transfusion as a long-awaited cure to deadly illnesses, while others worried that science was toying with forces of nature, perhaps even paving the way for monstrous hybrid creatures. Taking us from the highest ranks of society to the lowest, Holly Tucker introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters, all ruthless contenders in the battle over transfusion. Finally, in a feat of historical research, she reveals the true identities of Mauroy's murderers—and their motivations to kill. (Image and synopsis from

My Review:

Blood Work is an interesting non-fiction work that chronicles the beginning of blood transfusions in the 17th century in France and England. Scientists started experimenting in blood transfusions long before the knew anything about the composition or purpose of blood- many still did not even believe in circulation of blood throughout the body!

This book describes wonderfully, if that is the right word, the gory nature of blood work before modern practices. Bloodletting was still one of the most common medical treatments for patients and the new technique of blood transfusions was even more 'icky' than bloodletting. Blood Work also describes the political nature of science in the 17th century- especially the feud between protestant England and Catholic France. I found some of this background to be more interesting than the specific blood transfusion debates.

While I think Holly Tucker did a great job of bringing to light this interesting piece of scientific inquiry, I felt like there was too much build up to the end and a little too much background information. Some thingsdragged on, like the description of King Louis XIV when he really had very little involvement in the transfusion debate. The promised murder in the book was also a let down since it was not at all difficult to guess the assumed murderers and their reasons for murder. However, I did not read this because I wanted a thrilling mystery; rather, I wanted to learn blood transfusions in the 17th century, which this book accomplished.

Overall, I think Blood Work was interesting and informative. My main complaint is that there was some extra unnecessary information that bogged down the plot some. Instead of jumping around to explain all of the background, I think it could have been trimmed more to make a more efficient, cohesive narrative.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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