BLOOD by Douglas Starr

BLOOD

An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Seasoned journalist and former field biologist Starr writes an outstandingly lively history, based largely on archival research and interviews, of an unexpectedly dramatic topic: the international science, economics, and politics of blood transfusion. The topic subsumes several others: methods of collecting and storing blood, of deconstructing it (isolating out its several components, especially the clotting agent Factor VIII, so crucial to the health of hemophiliacs), and screening it for disease. The story begins in the 17th century, when the French doctor Jean-Baptiste Denis first transfused calf’s blood into a crazed patient, inducing a fever that temporarily cured him of syphilis. It proceeds up until the late 20th century, when angry hemophiliacs, infected with HIV by contaminated blood, brought suits against doctors and blood banks in Japan, France, and America. In between, Starr recounts the heroic transfusing efforts of donors, doctors, and military personnel during WWII, which saved countless front-line soldiers’ lives; the postwar competition among modern blood banks; and the rise of the blood-buying business, which too often exploited the poor and unhealthy. Several tensions move the drama: between medical professionals and service-minded laypeople; between government health agencies and business-oriented blood banks; and between views of blood as purchasable commodity and as humanitarian gift. The history of blood’sanguine though it is by definition—is thus far from uniformly rosy. Starr, an accomplished storyteller, weaves his plot around the great, eccentric, and sometimes tragic personalities of blood history, lightening it with humorous anecdotes, as of Bela Lugosi (alias Dracula) donating blood to American servicemen during WWII in order to make good on his “ill-gotten gains.” A potentially dramatic tension Starr might have explored further, in his final chapters on AIDS, is between the two politically vocal—but otherwise very different—communities of HIV-infected hemophiliacs and gay men. Transfused into such good narrative history, blood will interest even those who can’t stand the sight of it. (16 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-41875-X
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionMARKETPLACE OF THE MARVELOUS by Erika Janik
by Erika Janik
NonfictionNINE PINTS by Rose George
by Rose George