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Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution (2010)

by Holly Tucker

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3711060,017 (3.71)13
A sharp-eyed expose of the deadly politics, murderous plots, and cutthroat rivalries behind the first blood transfusions in seventeenth-century Europe.

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I love how the author styled the book to be immersive in the time period and the cast. At first I had mixed feelings about this because it adds too much filler if you want to read the book for explicit facts about the history of blood transfusion, but in retrospect I see how it comes together to form a unique story.

It was difficult to read the details of the animal experiments. I wouldn't have it any other way--there's no point in blinding ourselves from what actually happened--but despite keeping that in mind it kept the book's overall likeability factor down.

It was amazing how some of the content initially seemed irrelevant to the title and subtitle, but those apparent irrelevances weaved into the time's societal conscience toward medicine and research. It can be easy to look down upon the thoughts of a time period without context--often students in high school, who merely memorize enough to get the grade they want, sharply state how "stupid people were back then".

For instance there is a part where Rene Descartes suggested that animals lacked souls and therefore could not feel pain. But Tucker addressed that some of the populous opposed Descartes's philosophy and the experimentation. Good to know that despite the lack of legal protection back then some people did value ethical treatment of animals.

There's also interesting insight the history of physicians. We may tease modern doctors for not spending time with patients, but the 1600s they merely told other people how to administer treatments. Arguably they didn't learn medicine--none of the philosophies mentioned in the book came from biology, and even shunned chemistry. I would love to find a book that more broadly addresses the history of medicine. ( )
  leah_markum | Oct 28, 2022 |
Full disclosure, I read about 80 pages into this book, then I skimmed the rest. It was too difficult reading about the horrible experiments and what scientists did to both humans and animals. So, let's talk about why I gave this four stars.

Blood Work is the story of the first blood transfusion experiments in the 17th century. I say story because Tucker has created a really strong narrative voice in her book. The subject matter is interesting, but the way Tucker writes makes it even more interesting.

If you like very minutely detailed writing of historical scientific procedures (and you have a strong stomach), this book is for you. I have the former, but not the latter. The level of detail that Tucker uses to describe the procedures was too much for me. It made me sad and alarmed, which did not make for good reading. But, I still think the subject of the book is infinitely interesting (blood, it's so weird), and it's a story well told, so hence the 4 stars. ( )
  JessicaReadsThings | Dec 2, 2021 |
Lots of good information but in some instances feels more opinionated rather then direct facts. I would not use this book for citations for papers but use it as a stepping stone for searching out more research for papers. Definitely worth the read if you want to know more about blood letting and transfusions for the 16th century. ( )
  RavinScarface | Dec 13, 2020 |
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, but I recommend it with reservations if you're into the history of medicine. ( )
  ryner | Aug 6, 2019 |
This is a very confused book. Is it a murder story, like the subtitle seems to suggest? Is it about the discovery and abandonment of technology, out of step with our normal understanding of scientific history, like the first few chapters harp on about? The epilogue explains that it's actually about the way moral concerns influence the development of important and life-saving science, which would have been nice to know earlier. The story of Denis and his sabotaged transfusion experiments is interesting, but I'm not sure there's a whole book in it, or at least not this book. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Dec 31, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
In Blood Work, medical historian Holly Tucker looks at the beginnings of transfusion in the seventeenth century. Adding material from her own archival research to the standard historical account, she fleshes out the start of physiological experimentation and examines historical attitudes to blood. The result is a page-turning insight into early scientific attitudes and disputes over priority.
added by jlelliott | editNature, W.F. Bynum (pay site) (Apr 14, 2011)
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A sharp-eyed expose of the deadly politics, murderous plots, and cutthroat rivalries behind the first blood transfusions in seventeenth-century Europe.

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