About the Book
On a cold day in 1667, a renegade physician named Jean Denis transfused calf’s blood into one of Paris’s most notorious madmen. In doing so, Denis angered not only the elite scientists who had hoped to perform the first animal-to-human transfusions themselves, but also a host of powerful conservatives who believed that the doctor was toying with forces of nature that he did not understand. Just days after the experiment, the madman was dead, and Denis was framed for murder.
A riveting account of the first blood transfusion experiments in 17th-century Paris and London, Blood Work gives us a vivid glimpse of a particularly fraught period in history – a time of fire and plague, empire building and international distrust, when monsters were believed to inhabit the seas and the boundary between science and superstition was still in flux. Amid this atmosphere of uncertainty, transfusionists like Denis became embroiled in the hottest cultural debates and fiercest political rivalries of their day. As historian Holly Tucker reveals, transfusion’s detractors would stop at nothing – not even murdering Denis’s patient – to outlaw a practice that might jeopardize human souls, pave the way for monstrous hybrid creatures, or even provoke divine retribution.
Taking us from the highest ranks of society to the lowest, from dissection rooms in palaces to the filth-clogged streets of Paris, Blood Work sheds light on an era that wrestled with the same questions about morality and experimentation that haunt medical science to this day.
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN BOOK OF THE MONTH, HISTORY BOOK OF THE MONTH and BOOK OF THE MONTH Pick
“Ms Tucker’s chronicle of the world of 17th-century science in London and Paris is fascinating. A meticulous historian, she paints a compelling picture of rivalries and politics among the various English and French academies and their members. In an interesting twist, she even unearths evidence that Mauroy died, not as a result of the transfusion, but because he was murdered by Denis’s opponents.” – Read the full review here.
The Boston Globe
“Holly Tucker explores the stubborn nature of…science in her ingenious, engaging, and disquieting history of medicine’s early misadventures with blood transfusion….Tucker masterfully narrates a rich tale about the competing passions of faith, politics, and knowledge.” – Read the full review here.
The Seattle Times
“Multilayered and engrossing….In tracing the tale of Denis and blood transfusion, Tucker has done a wonderful job of re-creating a time, place and event unfamiliar to most contemporary readers…It all makes for a riveting story.” - Read the full review here.
“In masterfully recounting the turmoil surrounding another era’s medical controversies, Tucker also sheds light on contemporary ones, such as stem-cell research, and issues a plea to let rational discourse prevail over religious fervor.”
In the Margin (Barnes & Noble)
“We benefit from Tucker’s keen instincts as a historian about the riches lurking in this formerly neglected subject matter; her devilish ability to concoct something of a hypnotic Grand Guignol…and from her meticulous documentary researches and respect for science. The result is a treat: a solid dose of learning in a novelistic package.” – Read the full review here.
The Capital Times
“In Blood Work, Holly Tucker has created a page-turning story of schemers and dreamers, criminals and chemists. The result is a compelling and unusual history of science, and more than that, of ourselves and the unexpected ways that we gain an understanding of our world. Blood Work is both a smart and an addictive read, one of those rare opportunities for readers to learn and be royally entertained at the same time.”
Deborah Blum, author of THE POISONER’S HANDBOOK
“Blood Work is a magnificent story of the heady days when transfusions were first being performed. There is drama, intrigue, discovery and revelation in this tale and the writing is terrific.”
Abraham Verghese, author of CUTTING FOR STONE
“Blood Work is fascinating and richly-researched, giving us a gory glimpse of the dawn of our scientific age.”
Carl Zimmer, author of SOUL MADE FLESH: THE DISCOVERY OF THE BRAIN AND HOW IT CHANGED THE WORLD
“Blood Work layers in everything I crave in a nonfiction narrative – big ideas, history, science, suspense, dark secrets, larger than life personalities, life-and-death issues, and a palpable sense of what the past looked, sounded and smelled like. Holly Tucker is fearless in tackling meaty, bloody subjects and nimble at making acute, original connections. Blood Work conjures up the beating heart and ambitious, flawed intellect of a past world.”
David Laskin, author of THE CHILDREN’S BLIZZARD and THE LONG WAY HOME
“At what point does medical experimentation so challenge a community’s values that it needs to be shunted aside and hidden? Holly Tucker’s marvelous study of blood transfusion makes us realize that the scientific community of seventeenth-century Europe struggled age-old prejudices and contemporary skepticism alike. This vital story, wrestled out of the archives, brings us into the labs, streets, and scandals of early modern London and Paris. Wise in its judgements and supple in its elegant prose, Blood Work is history with the wallop of a novel, a book that teaches as it entertains.”
Peter Mancall, author of FATAL JOURNEY: THE FINAL EXPEDITION OF HENRY HUDSON – A TALE OF MUTINY AND MURDER IN THE ARTIC
“A fast-paced and fascinating ride through a dark and devious period in science, Blood Work is a witty, insightful, and skillfully written book that sheds light on the mysterious story of blood transfusion.”
Wendy Moore, author of THE KNIFE MAN and WEDLOCK
“Holly Tucker does an incredible job of bringing the history of blood transfusion to life with harrowing immediacy, spinning a tale of blood, ambition, and murder so gripping that it reads with novelistic intensity. She also reminds us that science itself has a history, that the discipline which we trust to explain our world can also be bound up in the prejudices and assumptions of our own time. Anyone with a taste for historical intrigue will devour Blood Work, just as I did.”
Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE