Amanda's Reviews > Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution

Blood Work by Holly Tucker
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's review
Mar 08, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: won, own
Read from March 08 to 22, 2011 , read count: 1

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 of Jane Austen's novels. Holly Tucker also notes that George Washington had this practice done. Wow. Never knew that.

When blood transfusions were first thought up and carried out by the curious and educated, I find it odd that they didn't see it as a way to make up for lost blood, but as another way of treating an illness of the body or mind. I loved how these men pursued the quest for knowledge and how England and France kind were in kind of a scientific war over this. Quiet fascinating and at times very disgusting. I have to admit that I felt so sorry for all the animals that were worked on during their practices. But they eventually moved on to humans and this is where most of the drama unfolds. Blood transfusion became a religious, moral, and national problem. Transferring blood between human and animal or even human and human might possible interfere with a person's soul and even worse turn someone into a hybrid with animal and human characteristics! Or so they believed.

History books like these are the type I adore. It's well research and jammed packed with all sorts of interesting characters and aspects of life during this period. We get a glimpse into the court life of the Sun King, Louis XIV, as his Academy of Sciences opposes blood transfusion. We get a vibrant look at people like Jean-Baptiste Denis who try to make a name for himself by becoming successful at blood transfusion almost at all cost. Henry Oldenburg, a German-born philosopher working in England who is imprisoned because he is a foreigner and therefore suspicious. And one of my favorites, Henri-Martin de la Martinière, who ran away from home as a young boy, became a pirate then physician. I'd love to read more about him. As for the murder...well you'll just have to read the book for that one.

As a side note: I was reading this the other day when I had a doctor's appointment. As I was getting some blood taken, the nurse noticed the book title and asked what it was about. When I told her she looked a little shocked and then asked why I was reading it. That actually made me think. While I totally enjoyed it, it does seem like an odd book to just pick up. Then I read Holly's epilogue and I came to understand what it was. She wrote, "early animal-to-human transfusions were a case study for larger political struggles, religious controversies, and cutthroat ambitions during the late seventeenth century." And it doesn't stop there. She wrote that she became aware that she needed to write this book when she heard President Bush's speech in 2006 wanting to prohibit animal-human embryonic stem cell research. Wow. Is history trying to repeat itself? And that's why I was reading it and enjoying it. It's a fascinating historical tale that provides a new outlook on modern controversies. Thanks Holly!
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