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The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South
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The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  614 ratings  ·  171 reviews
In 1968, Bruce Tucker, a black man, went into Virginia's top research hospital with a head injury, only to have his heart taken out of his body and put into the chest of a white businessman. Now, in The Organ Thieves, Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Chip Jones exposes the horrifying inequality surrounding Tucker's death and how he was used as a human guinea pig without ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 18th 2020 by Gallery/Jeter Publishing
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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Start your review of The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Imagine learning that your 54-year old brother fell while out drinking with friends. He hit his head and had to be taken by ambulance to a hospital. 

Now imagine calling around to various medical facilities, unable to find which one he had been taken to.

Finally you find the right one only to be told your brother has died. You arrange with a funeral home to pick up his body and they later inform you that your brother's heart and kidneys are missing. 

Your brother had apparently died from a fall res
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, medical
This work of history examines a largely unknown dirty secret of one of the first heart transplants in the Eastern United States: in 1968, a black man was admitted to a research hospital with a head injury, and, within a matter of hours, his heart was removed from his chest and transplanted into the body of a white man.

This occurred as a result of many different historical factors. Among them was the heart transplant race that took over the medical community in the mid- to late 60s. The first tra
Kimba Tichenor
I have seen all the rave reviews, and I hate to be the party pooper. I know my review will anger some. But based on the description of the book, I was expecting an in-depth analysis of a particular incident, that is, the 1968 theft of Bruce Tucker's heart without his family's consent by Virginia's top research hospital. Certainly, such an analysis would require the author to provide some background information in order to situate the incident in its historic context. But after a few opening page ...more
Carolyn Walsh
May 06, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for this powerful look at some little known events in the segregated south and in the improvement of medical care with some groundbreaking discoveries and techniques. Such improvements came along with some horrific experimentation described in the book. Years of meticulous research resulted in this book.

This was a long book with much detail and digressions which hindered the flow of reporting for me. The story centres around the case of a blac
Patrick Pilz
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: covid19-booklist
After the first chapter, I double checked my kindle: Did I start the right book?

I did not read the description and from the title, I expected a lesson in medical history. But that is just the background story - really. This is a crime drama. This is a courtroom drama. This is a segregation drama in the American South. Yes, and it is a medical drama better than any you may have seen on TV.

This is a story.

And it all starts when a father and funeral director find a body with missing organs.....
Neile B
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ahhh....the details of this book. It's like when someone tells you a story and they are a bit long winded, so they keep adding to it a tapestry of side notes and not quite getting to the point and you listen and wonder to yourself if they will ever get there, but they have caught your interest so you see it through. In the end you are left with a pretty good story.
That's what Chip Jones' book, The Organ Thieves was like for me. I actually enjoyed all the incredible little details. It impressed
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, medicine
So in 1968, the Medical College of Virginia had committed a crime when they took Bruce Tucker's heart for a heart transplant without getting family permission. Jones' narrative of events shows how this happened.

I thought that The Organ Thieves was very thorough in exposing the roots of medical racism by showing us the history of the theft of Black bodies for medical purposes throughout the history of the United States. Readers of this book should be outraged, as I was.

For my complete review see
Dawn Michelle
Great. Googly. Moogly.
Well, if you are looking for a book that will both teach you AND piss you off, look no further. This book will do both. I have serious anger, brain fog and book hangover. If that isn't enough of a book recommendation, I don't know what would be.

This is the story of Bruce Tucker. A hard working, self-effacing, black man who, after falling off a wall and suffering brain damage, has his heart harvested [without any consent] to be put in the chest of a prominent white man wh
Trigger warnings: medical procedures, graphic descriptions of medical procedures, animal experimentation, death, racism, questionable medical ethics.

3.5 stars.

The subtitle and the blurb very much make this sound like it's going to be the story of Bruce Tucker going to hospital with a head injury and leaving dead and minus his heart. And, like, it IS? But it's also the story of grave robbing so that medical students could learn. It's the story of transplant surgery and the experimentation that
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to
read this book; I really wanted to like it. I was thrilled when I got it from the library. I eagerly read through the first few chapters and then the anticipation ended and disappointment set in. The author veered so far away from the premise which it promises, the theft and selling of human organs , that the text became like a textbook. I slogged through it, bored by all the digression, and realized it wasn’t going to be at all like Henrietta Lacks by Skloot. The writing was g
Kelly Parker
Jul 30, 2020 rated it liked it
This accounting of the first heart transplant performed in Virginia in 1968 also encompassed quite a bit of background on the history of “grave robbing” for the purpose of medical study, as well as a thorough account of the history of organ transplants.
While reading the first section on “grave robbing” I worried that the book would be bogged down in a bunch of technical info and read like a textbook, and sometimes it did.
It picked up when covering the beginning of organ transplants and especia
Jun 04, 2020 rated it liked it
The Organ Thieves is a truly horrific exposé on the mistreatment of black people in America, which sadly remains true today. Although Henrietta Lacks has now become a household name thanks to Rebecca Skloot's seminal work The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, there have been many other victims of the systemic racism in medical research whose voices have not been heard. Just two years after the Civil Rights after of 1964, an African American by the name of Bruce Tucker was admitted to Medical Col ...more
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Chip Jones covers much ground in The Organ Thieves- the early days of heart transplants within the context of racial conflicts, justified mistrust, medical professionals rivalries, and then unresolved legal and ethical standards that later evolved. And then there are those huge egos!

Jones’ writing is clear, his research thorough. The coverage is broad, and may be potentially confusing for those unfamiliar with the field of organ donation and transplantation, as it evolved to the current era. Th
Aug 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I picked this one up expecting a story somewhat like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or The Radium Girls but it was so much more than that. It doesn't read as a story throughout but it gives quite the comprehensive history of the study of anatomy and progress towards organ transplantation in the US. The dark undercurrent is that much of the progress was made by taking advantage of minorities and the poor. The book details serious offenses against humanity including grave robbing and organ s ...more
Zoey Erby
Aug 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: arcs, nonfiction
Let me start off this largely negative review by saying that I had absolutely no problem with Jones' writing style. The Organ Thieves was very well written. In fact, the way he wrote it really allowed you insight to the emotions that were being felt by those involved with the case. The writing was very immersive and emotional. The book was also very well researched. It was clear that Jones spent a very long time researching the premise and making sure that he had accurate background information. ...more
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
I admired the research and writing of this non-fiction book because the 1968 episode portrayed therein is a concrete example of the beginning, middle, and end of a racist act. The act (actually more than one act) is put clearly in context in all its cruel but ambiguous nature, complete with people who are well-meaning, ambitious, thoughtless, careless, and on and on. The whole book is like a thought experiment: What if this detail had changed? What about this other detail? Would the whole story ...more
Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
the writing is a little stilted, but the story is down-right one that needs to be told.
This is such a difficult book to read. That being said, it is a story that needs to be told. I did find that the book dragged a bit at times. At other times, I had to put it down because I found it emotionally painful and draining.
It is horrific what happened to Bruce Tucker and I am so very angry and sickened that justice was not done. It is terrible what his family had to go through and the obvious pain it obviously still causes his son.
Although I did find the book a bit dry and slow at time
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
The book was nicely written. A few errors was in the text. The book was an "Uncorrected proof". I was disappointed that it took half the book to get to the actual case of the victim's family. I understand that the reader may have need some background information to organ transplantation. But the author went so far as even mention a Charles Dickens novel to build up the background.
I just think that the author over did the details and did not give the reader enough of the actual story or lack of a
Deb Ristow
May 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
I received The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South by Chip Jones as part of the Goodreads Giveaway program. It is the story of Bruce Tucker who is taken to a research hospital in Virginia with a head injury leaving him without a chance of recovery. What happens next is stunning as his heart and kidneys are removed for organ transplant prior to his family receiving notification of his condition. The Organ Thieves tells the story of the behind th ...more
Nemo Nemo
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing

Chip Jones is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist. You can learn more about this author here or visit his Facebook page here.


The Organ Thieves has broad appeal. Everyone from medical students to senior professors and laymen alike will enjoy this work. Students of history, ethics, research fellows or anyone who wants to know more about the early history of heart transplants in the United States will find this book invaluable.


The Organ Thieves is a compas
O Prism
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Organ Thieves was a surprising read. I thought I would be reading a true crime mystery, and ending up with much more than I anticipated, in a very good way - a well-researched story of Bruce Tucker, who was cruelly used as an organ donor in 1968 for an early heart transplant. Tucker went to the hospital with a head injury, and wasn’t seen or heard from again. No contact/permission was sought from his family, who later sued for wrongful death. The book goes far back in history of using Africa ...more
Emily Hewitt
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I received an advanced reader's copy of this book through Goodreads Giveaways. I liked this book...but at the same time, I found it dragging a bit in the middle. It definitely covers more than just the "first heart transplant in the segregated south." It actually spends a few chapters giving an interesting overview of medical experiments and research in the south going back to before the Civil War. I don't know what it was specifically about this book that is keeping me from giving it a higher r ...more
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Organ donation is a topic that’s very important to me, so when I learned about The Organ Thieves by Chip Jones, an investigative history which delves into the fraught story of one of the first heart transplants in the U.S., I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. It was fascinating and heartbreaking to learn about this early (but still so recent) history, before the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act which governs organ donation for transplantation, before the concept of the donor waitlist, before ...more
This book was tough but enlightening. Wow. It is shocking to read an historical account of some of the awful things that humans have done to each other. In this case, it is in the name of medical science and racial inequality. This is an excellent account of real world events that took place in the American South. Let's pray that we move forward from tragic events such as these.
Difficult read but highly recommend for anyone interested in race or science history.
#TheOrganThieves #Netgalley #Galle
my bookworm life
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of the best non fiction books I’ve read!

This was such an interesting, mind bending and insane read, so many times it had me re reading parts just to make sure I’d read that correctly, and then feeling shocked and sad when I discovered I had.

This reads so much like a medical thriller that it’s crazy, you have to keep reminding yourself it’s true because it’s just so mad. The research that went into this book is amazing and so extensive , it’s such a well written and compiled book that it ma
The CurvyJones
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Julie Harding
Oct 05, 2020 rated it liked it
It could have been like The Immortal Life of Henrietta
Lacks. It wasn’t nearly as well-researched or as well-written and what should have been the thrilling climax was, well, anti-climactic. I never cared nearly as much about Bruce Tucker as I did about Henrietta and it may just be that the story wasn’t as interesting on the facts.
Katy West
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look at the debate about when death occurs and a glimpse into the racialised history of USian medicine. Worth a read for those interested in biomedical ethics, the history of medicine, and Usian history.
Dean King
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A compellingly told, shocking, and, yes, heartbreaking story of medical ingenuity, human tragedy and social history, involving some outsized characters.
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Chip Jones has been reporting for nearly thirty years for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Roanoke Times, Virginia Business magazine, and others. As a reporter for The Roanoke Times, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the Pittston coal strike. He is the former communications director of the Richmond Academy of Medicine, which is where he first discovered the heart stopping story ...more

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