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Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  446 ratings  ·  92 reviews
A delectable true-crime story of scandal and murder at America’s most celebrated university.

On November 23rd of 1849, in the heart of Boston, one of the city’s richest men simply vanished. Dr. George Parkman, a Brahmin who owned much of Boston’s West End, was last seen that afternoon visiting his alma mater, Harvard Medical School. Police scoured city tenements and the har
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published July 17th 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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3.71  · 
Rating details
 ·  446 ratings  ·  92 reviews

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BAM The Bibliomaniac
Goodreads giveaway win

You had me at murder committed in 1849, Goodreads.

Dr. George Parkman disappeared after missing an appointment in the area of Harvard University. No one knew with whom the appointment was, not where he could have gone after leaving a head of lettuce on hold at a local store. A reward was offered and Harvard was searched. When the body was finally found and a suspect named the town was rocked to its core. Money of course was the motive. Parkman has much; the suspect bizarrel
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, history, nonfiction
True crime is not my usual genre, in fact, I think Devil in the White City is the only other true crime book I’ve read. For fans of that book, I recommend you give Collins a try.
Blood and Ivy has that interesting narrative style of a lot of modern history books like Devil in the White City. Collins has an extensive list of references—over 60 pages of notes and sources at the end of the book—and judging by his acknowledgments, it took him a lot of time to pull it all together into something read
Cindy H.
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thank you to NetGalley and WW Norton Publishing for gifting me with an ARC of Blood & Ivy by Paul Collins. In exchange I offer my unbiased review.

I absolutely loved this true crime account. Collins skillfully and artistically draws the reader into the mid 19th century and the exclusive halls of Harvard University. In 1849 Dr. George Parkman, a Harvard graduate and benefactor of the esteemed university left his home to run some errands and never returned. Foul play was quickly suspected and
Blood & Ivy is about the case of a missing doctor after visiting his alma mater, Harvard Medical School, a scandal that the school would love to avoid at all costs. This is a slow story that reminds me of The Devil in the White City but not as detailed or riveting. Sadly, I was not impressed.
A real life crime of the century brought to grisly exquisite life!

Take your reading scalpel to this one and get dissecting!
Graeme Roberts
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An elegant, beautifully structured tale from real life. Fascinating characters, just the right amount of detail, and a crystal-clear evocation of life in the Boston of 1849. I could smell it.
Paul Collins is a modern master.
Sep 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, audiobook
For the most part I enjoyed this one. It was kind of cool to read about Cambridge and Boston in the late 1840s. The author did a great job of setting the tone for the true crime story about the murder of a prominent Harvard professor. It was the first case in the US to use dental evidence as well as making a case for reasonable doubt. Worth a read, however it is a little slow.
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Blood & Ivy is another smart true crime book from Paul Collins. A slew of new types of evidence for the time and this great subject matter (a case that inspired Dickens!) will engage his existing fans and should bring a legion of new readers.

Many thanks to NetGalley, W. W. Norton & Company, and Mr. Collins for the advanced copy for review.

Full review can be found here:

Please check out all my reviews:
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another fascinating historical true crime account, this one set at Harvard's august medical school in 1849. School benefactor and graduate George Parkman, who made his fortune in real estate, goes missing in November 1849, last seen visiting a colleague in the medical school. (Others, like me, may more easily recognize his literary brother, Francis Parkman, of Oregon Trail fame). Police and everyone are out looking, as Parkman is socially connected. The investigation ends up back at the medical ...more
Jan 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read about the murder of a Harvard professor back in 1849, whose dismembered body was found within the medical college. The case was scandalous at the time for another Harvard professor was ultimately charged with the crime. The book is a whose who of famous individuals of government, literature and education, particularly for this time in Massachusetts, for many were either friends of the victim or the accused, or were involved in the court case in some fashion. Author Collins di ...more
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting book. In 1849 Boston, a wealthy doctor by the name of George Parkman was last seen at Harvard Medical School. What makes this interesting, Is it became the first case where medical forensics was involved and the meaning of reasonable doubt. A great edge on your seat page-turner!!!!
Ronnie Cramer
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another exceptional historical true crime book from the author of MURDER OF THE CENTURY. The research is excellent, and here's an example of the writing quality: "Webster's writ was really something of a scarecrow made of lots of little straws bound together to appear frightful, on closer inspection, it was still merely...straw."
Rachel Pollock
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is another gripping historical true-crime book by Collins, set at Harvard in the time of Oliver Wendell Holmes. The crime chronicled purportedly inspired Charles Dickens to write The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Sinister, creepy, and sometimes kinda gross. I enjoyed it!
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book starts out focusing on cadavers but soon turns into a first rate murder mystery. The trial subsequent to the crime offers up the first clarification of the term 'reasonable doubt'. This is a terrific read from a terrific author. I look forward to more writings from him.
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Eugenea Pollock
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: car-books
Paul Collins, who never disappoints, follows the historical footprints of a killer who considered himself too smart to be caught—after all, he WAS a Harvard professor. However, his attempts to cover it up were the “dead giveaway”. Also, the grisliest part.
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Paul Collins sets you squarely in the insular 1840s Harvard, and pages fly by as you're drawn in to the story of how a murder rocked this staid society. I picked up this book having some familiarity with the case, but the whole thing turned out to be so much more than I knew! Recommended for true crime, Harvard/Boston history, or legal history enthusiasts.

I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.
Scott Smith
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
It took me a little while to get fully immersed in this book. Collins’ writing style seemed clunky at first, but I think I just needed to adjust because after the first few chapters I was captivated by the story. I don’t have much firsthand knowledge of Harvard or Boston, I imagine that would make this story that much more entertaining. Collins’ impressively brought to life characters and a story that is over 150 years old.
nikkia neil
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, netgalley
Thanks W. W. Norton & Company for this ARC. All opinions are my own.

This biography has so many echos into the present. You'll be outraged, engaged, and glued to your seat. Collins is a master at his craft.
David Schwinghammer
BLOOD AND IVY is about a famous murder trial occurring in 1849. What's unusual about it is that a Harvard professor is accused of murdering a famous doctor and real estate landlord.

The case was also unique in that there were no eye witnesses but the victim's false teeth were found in a small furnace in the accused's lab. The dentist who made his false teeth took the stand and identified the teeth as those he made for the victim. A handwriting expert also testified that one of the letters sent to
Remy Tate
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Fascinating Look at a Famous Case

I'm going to preface this review by saying that I did receive this book for free in a giveaway.

This book was, on the whole, deeply impressive. The more informal style the book is written, in addition to the suspenseful pacing, kept what could have been a very dry read entertaining. The inclusion of several well-known authors of the time, Dickens being the one not directly connected to the case mentioned most often, also provide cultural touchstones and drive ho
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent true crime book! Paul Collins has a great narrative style that keeps the story moving. The 1849 murder of a doctor and real estate mogul, as well as the eventual trial, was a sensation in Boston at the time and well worth a retelling of the story.

Collins weaves historical information about Harvard, including a scandal involving the stealing of cadavers, skillfully to give us a real feel of the atmosphere surrounding the disappearance and murder of Dr. Parkman. I was especially surpris
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rosa Tremaine
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder that Scandalized Harvard, Paul Collins weaves a complex true crime tale that twists around itself rather like the hangman's noose that casts a long and deadly shadow over the plot.
The book begins and ends with Charles Dickens, a device that is both clever and relevant to the context. I had always assumed Dickens to be exaggerating his characters into caricatures of themselves, but the real-life people in Blood & Ivy are every bit as eccentric and bizarre
Nov 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was more interesting than I expected. The murder itself wasn't the most interesting part. It was reading the realities of life at that time, through the lens of a missing person and murder trial.

Apparently, there was a lot more civil disobedience, unrest and rioting in the streets than I was aware of. The author makes it clear that these things were a regular part of life in the city. Sometimes, there weren't even reasons for the rioting behavior. Just something to go wild about. I wonder i
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Historical true-crime is one of favorites and this one delivered on everything I like about it. It has to have a good setting and go to various tangents to build the world for me but not too many so as to lose the thread. Really, good historical true-crime will have a overall story that carries the story with all the tangents to keep you entertained. No doubt this one has all that going for it. Collins seems to be a fan of the factoid and the book is peppered with them. Sometimes they are writte ...more
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The story of the 1849 murder of a Harvard medical professor who was then found dismembered in the private privy and laboratory of one Dr. John W. Webster. Webster was deeply in debt and Parkman, the victim, was one of his creditors and was aggressive in asking for remittance. Webster was convicted and executed in 1850 Boston making him the second Harvard alumni to be executed. The first was George Burroughs who was executed for witchcraft in 1692.
The charge given the jury as to what resembled r
Mary Rose
"The skeptic might have pointed out that Shaw, as a member of Harvard's board of overseers, had a conflict of interest in this case, but that was not how the law worked in Boston, and particularly, not how the law worked at Harvard."

This isn't an analytical academic history, but it is a wonderfully constructed narrative history that gripped me from the get-go. Collins has done a wonderful job piecing together the story of the Parkman-Webster murder case from court records, newspaper clippings, d
Jan 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Funny thing is, I picked up this book while browsing at the library, completely unaware that I'd already read two books by this author (I'm not great at taking note of authors I enjoy). Obviously, I like the cut of this guy's jib.

My favorite thing about Collins is his ability to bring history to life. I feel that we have such a stilted view of history. We tend to think that our ancestors were somehow "other" compared to those of us in modern times. Collins describes the cities & time periods
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
For me this was a solid 3.5 read, so the half star goes to the author. Full disclosure, I received a free ecopy of this book from the publisher but am not required to write a review. The story was compelling and the author did a good job of moving it along. He let the dramatic nature of the events speak for themselves and did not overly embellish the narrative. I have one small quibble with the ebook version. The footnotes are highlighted and linked to the bibliography, which is fine. However th ...more
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Paul Collins is a writer specializing in history, memoir, and unusual antiquarian literature. His ten books have been translated into a dozen languages, and include Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (2003) and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars (2011). He lives in Oregon, where he is Chair and Professor of English at Portland ...more
“How can we expect that the illiterate and benighted child of want will remain faithful . . . when he in whose breast the lamp of science brightly burns is found derelict?” 0 likes
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