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Blood Work by Holly Tucker Cover

Blood Work

On a cold day in 1667, the renegade Jean-Baptiste Denis plucked an insane man off the streets of Paris and transfused him with cow’s blood.

A few days later, the patient was dead – and the transfusionist soon faced murder charges…

Set in seventeenth-century London and Paris, Blood Work (W.W. Norton, 2011) is a story of political infighting, professional backstabbing, and the struggle to control the most powerful commodity in seventeenth-century Europe:  knowledge.

Using blood transfusion as a frame for the larger social history of the Scientific Revolution, I track the confluence of cultural, political, and religious forces in a world undergoing radical transformation as science and society changed at a pace never before imagined.

I came across the fascinating – and bizarre – story of early animal-to-human transfusions as many professors do…while preparing a lecture on the history of blood circulation (discovered in 1628 by William Harvey) for one of my history of medicine classes at Vanderbilt University. My work on the Denis case would soon lead me through the violent and dirty streets of early Paris, into the affluent homes of French nobles, and across the Channel to a plague-ridden and fire-destroyed London.

As I hunted down answers to the madman’s death, I became fascinated by how one of the most common procedures in medicine today – blood transfusion – had such a long and fraught history. With the possibilities of genetic manipulation, stem cell research, and cloning, I do think we’re also deep in a similar moment of “Scientific Revolution.”

Time will only tell which of our modern discoveries stick, and which ones are cast aside for another 150 years like transfusion was after the Denis trial. And like the early transfusionists, we have to ask the same time-worn questions they did: How far are we willing push the limits of science? And at what price?


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2.) A Q&A with Holly: the Story Behind the Story
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General Contact Information

W.W. Norton LogoMedia Inquiries
Erin Lovett, Publicity Director
EMAIL | 212-790-4388

Literary Agent
Faith Hamlin
Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
EMAIL | 212.206.5663

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The New Yorker Reviews City of Light!

CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF POISON, by Holly Tucker (Norton). In 1667, Louis XIV, hoping to reduce crime in Paris, created a law-enforcement position—the lieutenant general of police—with sweeping powers of surveillance and detention. Tucker’s history focusses on the first incumbent, Nicolas de la Reynie, who built up a network of informants and discovered more than he’d...
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Authors Revealed Interview with Becky Anderson of NCTV17

Join host Becky Anderson as she talks to author Holly Tucker about her new book, City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris. Appointed to conquer the “crime capital of the world,” the first police chief of Paris faces an epidemic of murder in the late 1600s. Assigned by Louis XIV, Nicolas de La Reynie begins by clearing the streets...
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Paris Was a Great Place to Get Poisoned in the 17th Century

In 1667, Paris was a filthy crime-ridden mess, and Nicolas de La Reynie was the man hired to clean it up. As Holly Tucker tells it in City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic and the First Police Chief of Paris, the state of the capital made the would-be glorious Sun King of France, Louis XIV, look bad, and he wanted it fixed. And so La Reynie was installed as...
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Barnes & Nobel Reviews City of Light!

The array of culprits and the goggling audience alike ranged from the most glittering members of France’s aristocracy to Paris’s dregs. That’s one reason the bizarre chain of events that kept France intermittently on edge and in a tizzy from 1670 to 1682, retold with verve by Holly Tucker in City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of...
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New York Journal of Books Reviews City of Light

One can always trust the police to be dogged and to keep voluminous records, though they’re not always accurate. Holly Tucker was able to write her new book—City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic and the First Police Chief of Paris—because Nicholas de La Reynie, the French top cop, keep his own records of his investigations into criminal matters in the 17th...
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