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What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  119 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
A rich, unmined piece of Canadian history, an intense psychological drama, a mystery to be solved… and a hardwon escape from a family curse

Like his friends Banting and Best, Dr. John Fitzgerald was a Canadian hero. He founded Connaught Labs, saved untold lives with his vaccines and transformed the idea of public health in Canada and the world. What so darkened his reputati
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published May 11th 2010 by Random House Canada (first published January 1st 2010)
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Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a riveting analysis of the suppressed secrets of the author's family going back 4 generations. I found it it especially meaningful as I knew some of the characters described in the book-notably the author's father Dr.Jack FitzGerald(Fitz) who was the chief of allergy at TWH when I came to Toronto as an internist-allergist, and for a couple of years attended the TWH allergy clinic, and later the Gage Institute under Dr.Broder. I also got to know Drs.Stan Epstein(allergist-respirologist),h ...more
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this book, but I absolutely loved it. It appeals on so many topics - early Toronto history, the history of Medicine and the struggle for public health care, the Irish immigration experience and the conflict between psychoanalysis and psychiatry. The author looks at the lives of his grandfather and father and how it has shaped his life. Along the way such people as Duke Ellington and Count Basie, Fred Banting and Charles Best and the notorious 999 Queen St. ...more
Darrell Reimer
Aug 04, 2010 rated it liked it
James FitzGerald's father was a renowned allergist, a man who pioneered research techniques in his professional field, until his 50s, when an irreversible slide into depression and several failed suicide attempts put an end to his career. FitzGerald's grandfather was also a medical man, but the writer has no idea just how renowned until he discovers the man suffered a similar collapse in his 50s. Hoping to get some answers and possibly escape what now seems like a preordained fate, the writer un ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
I really wanted to like this book as the author has spoken recently in our neighbourhood and seems to be a nice and smart guy. The work is obviously cathartic to him as he tried to exorcise his family demons through it. The book could have been a good family history, overview of mental health treatment in the 20th century, look at medical heroes in the Toronto area or collection of the author's dreams. The problem is that it tries to be all of these things and therefore lacks focus. The author a ...more
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What an interesting look into the history of public health and mental health in Canada, specifically Toronto. As a health care professional, I found this book particularly captivating. I had no idea about the strides Canada, specifically Dr. Gerald Fitzgerald and his colleagues, have made in making vaccines accessible to all Canadians, including the disenfranchised, the poor. The author does a great job in painting a picture of Canada's health care system in the first half of the 20th century, i ...more
Karen Boothroyd
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
Well this was a tad tedious. However, I enjoyed the historical perspective and am wondering why the Fitzgerald family has not received more credit for their contributions to health care in Canada. I actually could not finish this book. I read what I did read because it was a Book Club read, but many times I just wanted to throw it down in frustration. Sorry James, but I thought you were a little over dramatic and a little on the whiney side.
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
By about page 125, this was just starting to feel unnecessarily long and wordy. The psychoanalytic angle was also too heavy-handed for me.
Barb Mcmurray
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this book several years ago. I enjoyed it as much or more the second time in preparation for my book club.
Having worked in public health and at Connaught Labs, now known as Sanofi Pasteur, I found the history most interesting and fascinating.
Dr Gerry FitzGerald was ahead of his time in his crusade on health promotion and disease prevention. Banting and Best's discovery of insulin and the role played by Connaught Labs is another one of several important times in medical history which are
Hella Comat
May 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Written by his grandson, this book is about Dr. J. G. FitzGerald, a pioneering doctor in Toronto in the early 20th century. He created Canada's first rabies vaccine and founded Connaught Laboratories in which Banting and Best did their pioneering work with insulin. James' father, another doctor, was famous for opening the first Canadian practice treating allergies. Despite these successes and what the title refers to is the mental illness that plagued both father and grandfather and many of thei ...more
Jun 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian, memoir
This book is almost impossible to categorize. It's a memoir, written by a man trying to understand his family and discover its secrets. It's a book about mental illness, because that runs through his family (and others). It's a history of medicine in Canada because his grandfather founded Connaught Labs and strove to immunize (at no profit!) the citizens of Canada and the world. His father founded our first allergy clinic. It's a social history of the upper middle class in Toronto in the twentie ...more
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very interesting read, although the book suffers a bit from being too dense--too much unnecessary detail. If you have experienced mental illness in your family (we certainly have) this will be a powerful read. And even if you haven't experienced it, this book is very informative. I found Fitzgerald's insistence on talk therapy alone, and his Freudian baggage, to be way overdone. He's too combative. But his description of the shortcomings of treatment for mental illness up ten or twenty years ago ...more
Eva Antonel
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
To read another man's story and see your own in the process is a sign of great achievement for a reader as well as the writer. James FitzGearald has achieved much by writing a memoir of his family and that of Canadian medicine. The two are intertwined in such a way as to seem inseparable and yet individuals fail to thrive because they feel so alone. A quest by the author to come to terms with his personal history gives the reader a lot to think about in terms of how we all feel inclined to follo ...more
Dec 25, 2013 rated it liked it
I saw the author speak in Whitehorse and bought the book. The book was eye opening - I learned alot about the history of medicine in Canada, madness and suicide. It got me thinking about the my own family history and how our secrets affect us. I found the author's musings on the relationships between fathers and sons fascinating but difficult to relate to. The language was full of hyperbole which makes the book a bit of a slog but the mystery and brisk pacing make up for it.
Kenn Chaplin
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm only about one-fifth of the way through this book but I'm totally engrossed in the story(ies) being told with the emotion the author could only dream of experiencing with his grandfather and father. It's a look at the knife's edge between genius and utter despair; it is the author's discovery of his family tree, shoots, bark, sap and all.
Feb 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: canlit, nonfic, abandoned
I got about 3/4 of the way through before I had to take it back to the library. The first half, which was a lot of family history and Toronto history, was great. I wasn't particularly sad that I didn't get to finish it, though, because the second half was more about the history of psychiatry, and I wasn't that interested.
Patricia Sands
Jun 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
The writer uses words well but I found the heavy emotional family issues rather much at times. However there is a great deal of fascinating historical information about Canada's health system and medicine in general in the first half of the last century. The author's personal connection to that history brings it alive and makes the book well worth reading.
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
An interesting story of one man' search to discover his family as a path to understanding himself. His exploration reveals little known aspects of the birth of public health in North America and the establishment of the Canadian health system. Fascinating read.
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Intriguing read chronicling a family in upper class Toronto throughout the 20th century. Fascinating insights into medical breakthroughs, the development of public health care, mental illness, treatment and society's view of mental illness and a personal in depth analysis of one family's dynamics.
Apr 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
The story had potential but too much background history on every minute detail. It was interesting to learn about the history of Canada's public health system. Thank you Dr. Fitzgerald for your pioneering on preventative medicine.
May 14, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. I found the first half of this book repetitive and boring but the second half that dealt with the discoveries of vaccines and insulin was informative and interesting. 3 for the first half and 4 for the last half.
Corrie Keevel
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-it, read-in-2012
Really enjoyed learning about Canada's contribution to vaccinations - we do such a poor job of promoting our accomplishments !
Jun 01, 2011 rated it liked it
good so far, lots of toronto history,
A good story and a fascinating slice of Canadian history, but too long and detailed for what it is, and unnecessarily repetitive.
Oct 17, 2011 rated it liked it
What a family history to explore! A bit repetitive in its telling, but then again, history did seem to repeat itself.
Andrea Nair
Jan 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
An interesting account of the history of vaccines, but more importantly, a view inside the mind and heart of fatherless sons.
Richard Worden
Canadian and World History, family history, mystery, and true confessions, all from an excellent story teller with a true writing gift.
Gregory Klages
rated it really liked it
Dec 14, 2015
Miz Moffatt
rated it really liked it
Jun 11, 2011
Cathy Gulkin
rated it it was amazing
Jul 09, 2012
Heidi Cho
rated it really liked it
Sep 23, 2015
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