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

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  1,105 ratings  ·  188 reviews
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 exposé 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...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published December 23rd 2010)
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Ginger Campbell
As a physician I was fascinated to learn that the first blood transfusions were attempted way back in the 1660's. However, what really made this book interesting was the contrasting reactions in England and France. Not only is this a fascinating story from the early days of science, it provides an excellent example of how things like politics and religions affect scientific inquiry. That's what makes this story relevent for 21st Century readers.

Not only that, it includes a pretty good murder mys...more
Linda Leaming

This is what I loved about Blood Work: from the very beginning Holly Tucker’s sense of place and time, 17th century Paris during the Age of Enlightenment, is conveyed in absolute perfect detail and she hooks us in like a great murder mystery. At the same time, we gain information and insights into our own scientific history and a time when both amazing and horrible things were happening. Blood Work tells the story of the first blood transfusions and the subsequent scientific and political strugg...more
Jan 11, 2012 Megan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in the history of science and medicine
Recommended to Megan by: Mackenzie
Overall I enjoyed this book but at some points found it hard to follow. The book was very well researched and put together but I often got confused which person did what and if they were English or French, which was often times important. I had never really thought about the history of blood transfusions or realized how much controversy was involved in the study. This book isn't someone with a weak stomach as it goes through bloody and painful procedures of dogs going through early transfusion w...more
In one way, this book is difficult to read. It deals with some truly horrific experiments in the name of science and some truly horrific human stupidity.

In another way, this book is easy to read. The writing flows smoothly, the events narrated are fascinating and the science is explained in a way that's accessible without being dumbed down.

This book reminds me of Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List in that I'm glad I read it, I had a definite emotional and intellectual response to it, but I...more
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 c...more
Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution is a thoroughly researched and richly illustrated early history of blood transfusions.

The writing is clear and easy to understand. I had no trouble following the history. It is written as if the author was directly telling you the story.

In the Epilogue, Holly Tucker explains why she wanted to write this book. There were two reasons but the important one to me was George W. Bush's State of the Union in 2006. He wanted a ban...more
Blood Work is a solid historical monologue, though to call it "a tale of medicine and murder" is a clear attempt to pull in readers that wouldn't normally read medical history. The "murder" part of the tale comprises a mere few pages, while the great majority of the book traces the progress in scientific understanding of blood circulation and transfusion. The author's preachy epilogue, in which she equates the proscriptions on blood transfusions to today's limits on stem-cell research, seemed se...more
Excellent book for those who like science with their history. I would recommend this to fans of Mary Roach or Deborah Blum, or to anyone with scientific/medical curiosity. This is far from a dry recitation of facts. Like any good historical work, it helps the reader grasp the much larger sociological picture, and does so in a witty and engaging manner.
Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker is meticulously researched and retold in a way that sucks the reader right in. While the subject matter is itself very interesting, the fabulous writing by Ms. Tucker raises it to an even more impressive level. With her extensive education and experience, I feel that there is no one better to bring us this true tale of life and death than Holly Tucker.

I very much enjoyed the religion versus science debate. Wit...more
"Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution" is a non-fiction piece telling the history of blood transfusions, from the first animal to animal transfusion up through a handful of human transfusions, and ending with Blood Transfusions becoming more or less banded in the late 1600 early 1700 period. It's full of interesting facts surrounding early medicine, their incorrect practices, and the reasoning behind them, as well as how they relate to what we know about modern...more
This is one of those books where I found myself needing to keep reading, despite all the expected gore and madness, because it was just that interesting. I was offering up little tidbits of random facts to people for days after reading it, taking gleeful satisfaction in their amazed, slightly grossed out reactions.

Told with modern day cloning (human/animal hybrid creatures, OMG) in mind, Blood Work gets down to the, well, bloody business of dissecting what blood transfusions could offer a medic...more
Tucker asks 2 questions here:

What is the Scientific Revolution?


Has the Scientific Revolution left us?

She shows the SR to have been a lively, morally dubious, highly competitive, and thoroughly disgusting business, and places it alongside its political context (Louis XIV) and cultural context (the reshaping of major European cities). To do so, HT traces the story of one blood transfusion gone seemingly awry, explaining both the roots of the procedure and the charged scientific/political env...more

This was a very well researched history of the early days of blood transfusion. National rivalries, political intrigue, money, ego and religion all played a roll in the race to understand blood, as the study slowly moved from alchemy and superstition to empirical science.

As it sometimes seems to happen, the science got ahead of the public's acceptance and understanding of the work. The universities and governments of England, France and later Italy waged philosophical wars over the nature of hu...more
I'm 44% of the way through this and finding my enjoyment of a truly gripping tale of murder and science distinctly hampered by the quality of the writing. Too much novelistic projecting of emotions onto the characters and disjointed. When Denis transfused lamb's blood into a 16 year old boy...what happened to the boy after the first day? How is it possible he did not die? If he did not, why not? Want more detail, more fact, more mystery building! Less speculation as to the noble ambitions of the...more
Well-researched and intensely interesting; chock-full of details about the mysteries of blood and early transfusions around the 1600’s, comparing the advances experimented between England and France, historically foes in every way. The bibliography was fantastic.

As the author, Holly Tucker, describes it: this book “sheds light on an era that wrestled with the same questions about morality and experimentation that haunt medical science to this day.”

Expect to read about a LOT more than just blood...more
I loved it! A real live murder mystery - all based on historical data from the dark world of medical experimentation and revelation. A great book and a very approachable author. Check out her webpage at "" for many more delicious, historical tidbits from the world of medicine and beyond!
Jenny Maloney
If you open up this book to the table of contents, you'll see chapter titles such as:
"The Doctor and the Madman"
"The Age of Vivisection"
"The Blood of a Beast"

And, if you're anything like me, you think: Cool.

I knew only the most preliminary bits of 17th century history before picking this book up. For example, I knew who Louis XIV, the Sun King, was...but only via the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Man in the Iron Mask (and, no, I haven't read the book). And thanks to this delightful presentation of th...more
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...more
There's nothing actually misleading about the subtitle, but I was expecting a different scope for this work, which centers around an early human blood transfusion experiment that gave rise to a murder trial. I will say that Tucker is meticulous about depicting contemporaneous societal attitudes; I'd forgotten that people back then were debating which physical body part housed the soul, and while blood was a candidate, blood transfusion had very serious implications indeed. Particularly when anim...more
Sep 09, 2011 Almeta rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Almeta by: History Medicine Science
Shelves: packing-heat
My sister can testify that I am not a good blood voyeur. During every movie or television show that depicts blood letting, you will find me with my eyes firmly shut. Gore I handle, blood I do not. (Exorcist ‘s vomiting child is okay, but when they stick that needle in her neck and blood spurts everywhere…well I’m vomiting too.) Boy could I tell you stories about blood-withdrawing nurses!

Anyway back to the book. Once I was able to force myself past transfusions and vivisections, I found myself sh...more
Let me start my saying that this book sat on my shelf way too long! Holly Tucker tells such an interesting tale with this work of nonfiction. I learned so much about the history of medicine, blood transfusions and the role of religion in the study of medicine. Her use of primary sources made my history teacher heart swoon. I highly recommend this book for anyone with an interest in medical history. Beyond the history, Tucker does a fabulous job connecting the study of medicine in the past and ho...more
Stephanie Jewett
I had no idea that the science of blood transfusion went back so far (these scientists were working in the mid-17th century). Interesting and a little terrifying to find out how they went about figuring it out- of course, they only got so far before the whole idea was banned for nearly 200 years. The author provides plenty of background information that gives a good idea of what was going on politically as well as scientifically at the time, but to be honest I got tired of that and just wanted t...more
Discord at the frontier of scientific progress seems inevitable; some yearn to forge ahead while others want to slam on the brakes. This book provides a fascinating look at the origins of blood transfusion and the attendant controversy. Surprisingly, this took place prior to anesthesia, antisepsis, and blood typing, and involved some strange donor/recipient pairings. Early medical beliefs and practices boggle the modern mind. I wonder which of our current treatments will horrify people of the fu...more
Margaret Sankey
Microhistory of 17th century scientific circles, in which aristocratic competition to have the best smart people crosses paths with ambitious social-climbing doctors, body snatching, dog transfusions, royal intervention, sabotage and the unregulated excess of old regime social mores (the host of the demonstration will usually find it convenient to offer an elderly servant or two as experimental subjects...).
Mar 01, 2011 Cheryl marked it as interesting-possibilities  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cheryl by: First Reads
Not yet in our local library but sure sounds like something I'd enjoy.

"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."
Couldn't quite get into it. An interesting subject, but a bit too bloody; and the author loses focus a bit as we're asked to follow several characters from several warring countries and academies. Something I may enjoy if I pick it up again.
Fascinating combination of science and history, narrative flows very well
The stories of early medical research and experimentation are always interesting to read. Early medical practice was filled with the kind of "cures" that could and did kill. In this case, the story of early transfusions and blood science is made even more insane by the added bonus of a murder.

There are necessarily some pretty vivid descriptions of animal experimentation- including vivisection- so know that going in if that kind of thing bothers you.

I'll also save you some time - about 90% of t...more
Feb 11, 2014 Joleen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
I'm going to give this a 5 despite the slant the author takes (which is not to my liking), because I believe the history she imparts is invaluable. Of all the shocking and slightly creepy books I've read this year, for some reason, this one takes the cake. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that at least in the 19th and 20th Centuries the doctors at least mostly knew their way around the human body, while in the 17th, the "physicians" were stumbling around it like excitable teenagers...more
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Bookplate 2 13 Jun 12, 2011 08:26PM  
Brain Science Pod...: Blood Work 2 18 Apr 15, 2011 06:59AM  
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Holly Tucker teaches at Vanderbilt University, where she holds appointments in the Center for Medicine, Health & Society and the Department of French & Italian. Her writing has appeared in the New Scientist, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Journal, among others. Holly is also the author of Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine & Murder in the Scientific...more
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“Montpellier produced nearly 40 percent of all physicians in France, but the university had a troubled reputation as a party school where medical students were just as likely to drink and cavort with prostitutes as they were to learn the intricacies of the Hippocratic corpus.” 0 likes
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