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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

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  2,280 ratings  ·  271 reviews
A sharp-eyed exposé of the deadly politics, murderous plots, and cutthroat rivalries behind the first blood transfusions in seventeenth-century Europe.

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 mu
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 21st 2011 by W. W. Norton Company (first published December 23rd 2010)
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Average rating 3.65  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,280 ratings  ·  271 reviews

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Linda Leaming
Feb 21, 2011 rated it really liked it

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
Jamie Collins
Feb 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. This has some interesting information about 17th-century attempts to transfuse blood from one living creature to another, describing experiments which began with dogs (those poor dogs) and escalated to humans. The focus is on one particular experiment in which the death of the human subject, a madman, led to a murder charge for the French physician who carried out the transfusion.

The book meanders around its subject. The stuff about transfusions would fit into an essay, so
aPriL does feral sometimes
Science discoveries are often thought of as an area of intelligent human endeavor full of emotional reserve and reasonable educated caution. But any reader who enjoys reading books about the history of science knows that the people who explored what we today call science subjects were (and are) no better than the social world in which they worked and lived, even if more driven, obsessed and highly educated than the average citizen.

National politics, raw ambition, Protestant vs. Catholic faith (
Ginger Campbell
Feb 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 goo
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 respo
Apr 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Tucker begins her book with a Prologue that connects the earliest blood transfusions with modern stem cell research. Then, her first chapter tells the story of Denis' blood transfusions on the "madman," Mauroy. She then goes back to tell the reader how the idea of blood transfusions came into being, starting with Galen and the humors and William Harvey and blood circulation. She tells the reader about the scientific progress being made in England and France in the 17th century and about the batt ...more
Apr 22, 2011 rated it liked it
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 o
Jan 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
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
Jan 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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 self-e ...more
Feb 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting look at the early history of blood transfusion and the political, philosophical and religious issues surrounding it.
Mar 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, won
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
Apr 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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/p
Jan 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 11, 2011 rated it liked it

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
Mar 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
"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
Jul 12, 2011 rated it liked it
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
The Pfaeffle Journal (Diane)
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
An interesting little book about the 17th century science of blood, blood circulation and blood transfusion. The book is a well researched narrative of the "race" between the French and the English to see who could do the first successful blood transfusion and is, at times, rather graphic.

The real take away of this book is how our social, moral, political views effect scientific research. In Dr. Tucker’s words, “My greatest hope is that when historians tell our own story decades and
Mar 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: doctor-books
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 L
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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!
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Really fantastic! It was highly detail-intensive, which at times could be a little tedious, but overall it was a very informative and interesting book!
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I adore Holly Tucker. I love the way she tells a story from history, frames it in its historical context, and then talks about the implications this story has for the present day. In this work on the history of blood transfusion (a medical procedure that is common practice today), she discusses the paranoia and power struggles that made research on this procedure illegal for hundreds of years. Her commentary on the similarities between 17th century transfusion politics and our own current day st ...more
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
This microhistory of experiments leading up to the practice of blood transfusion, which involved not only myriad farm animals but murder, definitely has an interesting story to tell -- one can only imagine how grotesque some of these experiments would have been to witness in person! My interest was piqued when I heard her speak about the book on a podcast a number of years ago, and it's been on my to-read list since. Overall, the narrative is somewhat dry, with lots of filler and minimal action, ...more
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 delig
Oct 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, biology
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
K. Lincoln
Jul 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"On a cold day n 1667, a renegade physician named Jean-Baptiste Denis transfused calf's blood into one of Paris' notorious madmen"

Thus starts the jacket flap of this book about the first incidences of natural philosophers in England and France doing (quite horrific to my modern eyes) experiments in blood transfusing. By putting the incidents not only into political context of the times, but also into the religious-philosophical beliefs of the nature of mind-body, the transformative p
Apr 18, 2011 rated it liked it
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 fou
Ricky Valles
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this book about the history of blood transfusion during the 17th century. This book goes into the intense conflict between France and England; competing with each other over who is ahead in the field of science. Although his book is about blood transfusion it is primarily centered around the physician Jean-Baptiste Denis, the first individual who performed a human to animal transfusion. After the Denis' story blood transfusion is not talked about for many years, and this book i ...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
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Science and Inquiry: * September 2015 - Blood Work 26 71 Sep 27, 2015 08:19PM  
Bookplate 2 14 Jun 12, 2011 08:26PM  
Brain Science Pod...: Blood Work 2 21 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
“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.” 1 likes
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