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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Scientific Revolution

BLOOD WORK tells the riveting tale of early blood transfusion, and explains how the panic it unleashed still ripples through our world today.


A notorious madman, a renegade physician, a murder that remained unsolved for over three centuries--the true story one of the world's first blood transfusions in 17th century France  is the stuff of page-turner fiction. In her new book, BLOOD WORK: A TALE OF MEDICINE AND MURDER IN THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION (W.W. Norton, March 2011, hardcover) Holly Tucker reveals the bizarre true tale for the first time.


In 1667 physician Jean-Baptiste Denis transfused calf's blood into Antoine Mauroy, an infamous madman who was known to tear through the streets of Paris naked and screaming. With this, Denis, a brash physician with a taste for the limelight, enraged both the elite doctors who wanted to perform the first animal-to-human blood transfusion themselves and powerful conservatives who believed he was toying with forces of nature that he didn't understand. It only got worse when just days after the experiment, Mauroy was dead, and Denis was framed for murder. A trial ensued and Denis became a kind of 17th century Dr. Kevorkian, a stubborn man of science who held the public spellbound and reveled in controversy.


Meticulously researched and vividly detailed, BLOOD WORK, transports us back to 17th century France and--finally--closes the case on who really killed Mauroy.


Animal-to-human transfusion was then on the cutting-edge of medicine. In an era in which superstition sparred with science, transfusion was also a flashpoint for controversy. Conservative camps in Catholic France, including King Louis XIV's Academy of Sciences, railed against transfusion and predicted that before long animal-human hybrids would walk among us. Ambitious scientists fumed at being held back by retrograde forces who would choke the progress of science. A confused public feared that they would be crushed by cosmic backlash or social upheaval.


In BLOOD WORK Tucker not only tells a riveting tale, but explains how the same tensions that rocked 17th century French society remain alive today. "In many ways the Scientific Revolution has never ended," she says. Tucker is available for interview. Here is just some of what she can discuss.


* How Antoine Mauroy's wife and two zealous anti-transfusion activists carried out Mauroy's murder to discredit the work of Denis. One of whom, Henri-Martin de la Martinière, was a former pirate who believed God had called him on a mission to stop transfusion. She'll also reveal how she unearthed the conspiracy in a long-forgotten letter.


* How the current debate about stem cell research and our fears that genomic science will lead to cloning and "made-to-order" babies show that we still grapple with the same issues and anxieties that confronted 17th century Europe.


* Pig-faced women and barking men: How the anti-tranfusionist movement used the specter of animal-human hybrids to gain support and stir fear.


* The trials of Dr. Denis: how he prevailed in his murder trial, and how his humble origins-and arrogance-helped to make him a target for the French elite.


* How and why blood transfusion began again 150 years after it was banned.


* How blood transfusion remained a controversial procedure well in the 20th century. Tucker will discuss the American Red Cross's 1941 decision to refuse blood from African-American donors and the blood segregation programs that remained in place until the 1970s in some southern states.


Holly Tucker is an associate professor at Vanderbilt University's Center for Medicine, Health & Society and the Department of French & Italian. Her research focuses on the history of medicine. She writes for publications including the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, New Scientist, and Christian Science Monitor. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.


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