Read Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce by Douglas Starr Online


Powerfully involving narrative and incisive detail, clarity and inherent drama: Blood offers in abundance the qualities that define the best popular science writing. Here is the sweeping story of a substance that has been feared, revered, mythologized, and used in magic and medicine from earliest times--a substance that has become the center of a huge, secretive, and oftenPowerfully involving narrative and incisive detail, clarity and inherent drama: Blood offers in abundance the qualities that define the best popular science writing. Here is the sweeping story of a substance that has been feared, revered, mythologized, and used in magic and medicine from earliest times--a substance that has become the center of a huge, secretive, and often dangerous worldwide commerce.Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Blood was described by judges as "a gripping page-turner, a significant contribution to the history of medicine and technology and a cautionary tale. Meticulously reported and exhaustively documented."...

Title : Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780688176495
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 496 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce Reviews

  • Karin
    2019-06-24 09:28

    What began as a piece of research for work, became a riveting study of one the most critical pieces of humanity: human blood. Starr’s book is a stunning look at superstitions, medicine, war, invention, illness, politics, money, greed, defeat, humility and change. The gripping tale had me hooked from chapter one and took me through a long and twisted history of the human race.Starr breaks the book into three main areas: Blood Magic, Blood Wars and Blood Money. In each area he focuses on not just the uses of blood, but the overall perception of the product or gift, the underlying implications for its presence in our bodies and in medicine, our understanding and misunderstanding of its properties and how it helped shape the particular period of history being discussed.Blood Magic goes back to the beginning of when we first see or hear of blood being used, primarily through the use of blood letting to relieve a variety of illnesses.Doctors bled patients for every ailment imaginable. They bled for pneumonia, fevers, and back pain; for diseases of the liver and spleen; for rheumatism; for a nonspecific ailment known as ‘going into a decline’; for headaches and melancholia, hypertension and apoplexy. They bled to heal bone fractures, to stop other wounds from bleeding and simply to maintain a bodily tone. (pg. 17)Starr tells us how George Washington, suffering from what doctors now consider strep throat, instructed his doctors to bleed him to relive the pain and constriction. As part of his treatment, over the course of 13 hours, 7.5 pints of blood was let from his body (consider that most adults have 10-12 pints total in the body). This led to preterminal anemia, hypovolemia and hypotension. Washington (68) died the same day. Starr further discusses the transition of viewing blood as one of the four “humors” in our body carrying mystical powers, to a key component running throughout our body and being highly involved in our coronary, systemic, pulmonary and renal circulation systems. The concept and practice of transfusion became more common though blood typing had not yet taken place, which led to numerous deaths and complications.Blood Wars talks about how blood was a key component in WWI and WWII and theorizes (very successfully) how the availability of blood and plasma helped the Allies win WWII. Starr discusses the rapid growth and understanding of blood during this period of time including the discovery of blood types (A, B, O), the discovery of the process of fractionation and being able to use the different components of blood (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma) in a variety of applications and the discovery and use of citrate and other anticoagulants to store blood longer. Lastly, Blood Money talks about the evolution of the Red Cross, independent non-profit blood banks affiliated with the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), of which my current employer is associated, and for-profit blood banks and plasma centers. Starr talks about the evolution of illnesses like Hepatitis and eventually AIDS and the failings of the industry and countless governments to protect the blood and plasma supply and how we senselessly infected thousands of hemophiliacs and ordinary citizens through unsafe supply and transfusion procedures. He talks in detail about many of the profit plasma centers created in impoverished sections of cities where the poor and unhealthy are exploited for a few dollars a pint, while the plasma center turns a profit of many times over what they paid the donor. Only since the late 90s has sufficient, consistent testing been run on this product to ensure its safety for the general population. The book was eye-opening, educational and often times heart rending. I’ve been so ignorant regarding much of our history related to blood and the tragic epidemic of AIDS that is stampeding mercilessly throughout our world. This book helped give me a microscopic, scientific, but human glance into the larger picture and to understand different angles of this multi-dimensional topic. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a fascinating tale of our history. I hope to one day make this required reading for my kids (*a few curse words are used in the stories told of a couple of the AIDS victims who were unwittingly transfused with the virus either through blood transfusion or through the injection of Factor VIII for treatment of hemophilia). I’ll leave you with a couple of the critics’ comments of this book.“Starr’s lively history…courses with greed, altruism, and woozily vivid details.” Entertainment Weekly“Meticulously researched, elegantly told.” Newsday“Starr writes like a wildly enthusiastic high school biology teacher who arrives each day bristling with excitement, leaping about before the chalkboard, cracking jokes, and zealously banging his fist on his desk. Even the most indifferent brats pay attention, and so too will readers. …Starr has created what amounts to a history of the human race perceived through the filter of blood as a medical product.” Village Voice Literary Supplement“A vivid account.” The Economist“Blood should be included in all first- and second-year medical curricula.” Scientific American“This is first-class science writing, with a striking message.” Publishers Weekly

  • Caroline
    2019-06-25 08:29

    I have been putting off writing this review for almost a month, but I recently gave blood for the first time since reading it, and doing so just reaffirmed how great this book was.Blood is divided up into three parts. The first discusses the mysticism surrounding blood, particularly in the Middle Ages. It discusses the history of blood-letting and the beginning of transfusions, including those from animal-to-human and human-to-human. This section was interesting, but standard fare.The second section was some of the most fascinating, gripping non-fiction I have ever read. It detailed rise of the blood industry during the two world wars, from the use of plasma on beaches in the Pacific to Dr. Janet Vaughan's creation of blood banks in England before the Blitz. I had never heard of most of the people or stories that this section discussed, but they came across as the absolute best humanity had to offer. The bravery involved in driving through a pitch-black London in the middle of a German bombing to deliver blood to hospitals is staggering, as is that of Dr. Frederico Duran-Jorda, who transported blood to hospitals in the midst of fighting on the front-lines of the Spanish Civil War. All of it was just incredible. The explanation of the science and medical research behind it all was also extremely accessible and well written. Bottom line, my main thought on finishing this section of the book was that there needed to be a movie made about it, stat.The last part of the book detailed the rise of the blood services complex and how its practices in the late 20th century ultimately led to an AIDS-tainted blood supply that infected thousands of hemophiliacs and others who required blood transfusions. While the previous section showed some of humanity's best, this one showed some of its worst. I felt sick to my stomach while reading most of this section, as I learned about the greed and willful ignorance that led to countless patient deaths from contact with tainted blood. Over 75% of the world's hemophiliacs died from AIDS due to contaminated clotting factors. The numbers are staggering and almost incomprehensible. Additionally, I also found fascinating the discussion of different nations' varying attitudes toward blood and how this attitude affected its handling of the AIDS crisis. It also gave me a new understanding and appreciation of the current screening procedures that are now in place when one goes to donate blood. I have thought about this book almost daily since I read it. An incredibly eye-opening read.

  • Kim
    2019-06-03 02:27

    As a veterinary clinical pathology resident (aka, "blood nerd"), I found this book fascinating. The first section, which discusses the history of blood and how it evolved to be used in medicine, gave me great insight and appreciation for those pioneers, despite how sometimes disturbing their experiments were. Learning how transfusion evolved, how blood groups and cross-matching developed, and how they learned about the various components of blood was incredible to learn. Although it's difficult to imagine a time without transfusion medicine and fractionation, it's amazing to note that these are relatively recent developments. The book then continues into blood's role in WWII, and the differences between the Allies and the Nazis and their use of blood and blood products. The second section of the book focuses on how blood banking developed, primarily in the United States; I will say this section did drag for me, as it involved a lot of politics and infighting, but it also laid the groundwork for the horrific Hepatitis B/C and HIV/AIDS epidemics that broke in the 1970's and 1980's and how the blood supply became contaminated. It's easy to look back now and judge a lot of these organizations made in the 1960's and 1970's, given what we know now about blood-borne diseases, but I had to remember that this was how we learned about this. The most horrific section of the book discusses these epidemics, focusing primarily on HIV - I wanted to scream at the companies and doctors and CEOs that, even once they learned that their products were the source of the infections, they buried their heads in the sand and then proceeded to continue to sell their products. Even once they were banned in the US, they then went on to sell them internationally. I recommend this book not only to fellow "blood nerds" like myself, but to anyone who complains about the "invasiveness" of the questionaire that is asked of the donor prior to blood collection. How quickly people forget.

  • Sam
    2019-06-14 02:50

    I enjoyed Blood, and certainly have a much better understanding of the evolution of the the blood service industry.But the book is a bit seems to me the story book really want to tell is the story of the AIDS epidemic in the blood supply, and why so many people became infected after receiving blood, and blood products, well after the outbreak of the disease itself. However, the context of answering that question cannot be adequately explained without walking the reader back through our early understanding of blood. This context, though interesting, is but a lead-in to the real point of the book, and less a thorough background of 'all things blood'.The writing itself was sometimes dry - I found myself wishing that the topic could have been written by a Malcolm Gladwell, or Bill Bryson - someone that could give it that extra signature to move the pages through. It's a solid 2.5, but I'll grant it 3 for detail and research.

  • Maria
    2019-05-25 03:46

    Second only to water, blood is the most precious liquid on our planet. In my line of work, I am routinely splattered by it, and its presence signifies disease and infection. I am still fascinated by blood, though, as are millions of people. Blood has long been a mystery to humans and continues to intrigue and repel us, as evidenced by the endless popularity of vampire-themed books and movies and the all too real horror of the AIDS crisis. Douglas Starr's incredible work delves into the history of blood and the doctors who worked tirelessly to demystify the misconceptions of blood and put it to good use. Well into the 1980's, though, blood continued to elude even the brightest minds. The tragedy of hemophiliacs, hepatitis and AIDS continues to scar thousands of people worldwide and proves how precious a resource blood is, and how deadly a weapon it can be.

  • Jennifer
    2019-06-15 04:40

    This book chronicles the blood industry through the first transfusions leading up to the commerce of blood through donations and the Red Cross. The book details the spread of AIDS through tainted blood which pretty much wiped out the entire hemophiliac population that were dependent on these donations and the corrective actions that followed. A very interesting and informative read.

  • Ro_runner
    2019-06-10 05:54

    Very interesting & surprisingly "readable." I highly recommend this book for health care providers, blood product donors & recipients, & anyone interested in blood products or the blood banking industry.

  • Reddy Katzy
    2019-06-01 05:46


  • Aurélien Thomas
    2019-05-25 04:27

    Sure, 'Blood' is not for the squeamish as some passages can be very graphic! Plus, very detailed, it is at times quite technical from a medical perspective and, therefore, maybe a bit hard to follow. Having said that, here's a broad and enticing book. Not only because it's a very good scientific look into an interesting topic but, also and especially, because dealing with the fascinating, curious, shocking, and at times frankly weird, history behind blood transfusions, Davis Starr offers an engaging questioning of how we deal with blood as a resource. Is it only a natural human tissue or, does its use makes it a product to be submitted to the same trade laws as any other goods? The debate, extremely relevant considering the health and safety factors attached to it (see the appalling account of how the AIDS epidemic unfolded) is haunting the whole book and yet, looking at different views in different countries (USA, Japan, France...) the answer is not as straightforward as it seems... History, science, ethics... 'Blood' has it all and, even if daunting at times, it is an engrossing read about one of our most valuable resource. Interesting and engaging.

  • Natalie Pavlis
    2019-06-17 09:39

    Exactly what I was looking for!!! Working for Canadian Blood Services, I have been curious about the history of blood collection and transfusion. This book is well researched and written and gave me an insight into how and why we do the things we do to collect blood. Invaluable resource!!

  • Anna
    2019-06-06 06:30

    Blood is about the history of transfusion medicine and is geared more towards people with a background in medicine or immunohematology (blood bank). I found the beginning half of the book where the author discusses the early history of transfusion medicine to be fascinating. The second half of the book was a bit slow and boring in my opinion. It talks about the policy and politics of transfusion medicine in recent history particularly concerning HIV.

  • Loren
    2019-06-05 05:45

    The first section of this book – the history of blood transfusion – was fascinating. Long before doctors attempted to infuse the blood from one human to the next, the blood of animals was used to fill the hungry veins of accident victims. Doctors hoped that by transfusing the blood of a gentle calf, they could calm the temper of a hotheaded recipient. Direct human transfusion was held up while public attitudes slowly changed: the practice was initially considered monstrous, no better than cannibalism.As you remember from reading Dracula, Van Helsing grabs any donor that comes within reach to pour blood into Lucy Westenra’s empty veins. When medical statistics were first applied to the process in1873, 56% of blood transfusions ended in death. The discovery of blood types didn’t come until 1900, but it took 30 years for the concept to catch on. Then, of course, the Nazis tried to twist it to uphold their concept of “pure” blood types.Once Starr dispenses with the science of blood, he’s on to the military uses. While I understand that WWII saw the first widespread use of blood transfusions and the collection and distribution systems set the course for our modern systems, the section goes on and on, long past the point where my eyes glazed over.Things picked up when he began to cover the transmission of hepatitis via contaminated blood. Once it became clear to businessmen that there was money to be made collecting up free or inexpensive blood from donors, the almighty dollar trumped safety. (Starr likens the blood business to the petroleum industry and the American Blood Centers to OPEC.) Several studies showed that the odds of a hemophiliac receiving tainted blood and contracting hepatitis were 80% or greater, but that disease was considered less life-threatening than hemophilia. Patients’ questions were brushed aside even as the blood of 10,000 donors was pooled to create the medicine that treated their disease. If even one of those donors was infected, odds were that every dose of medicine from that pool was contaminated. Starr doesn’t draw the conclusion that these practices led to the spread of hepatitis today and the increasing number of drug-resistant strains.He’s too busy jumping into the AIDS epidemic and the politics which condemned 80% of hemophiliacs worldwide to death. Because prison populations were a cheap source of blood, repeated indications that up to 90% of the blood gathered was toxic were ignored. Even after blood banks knew their products were contaminated, they continued to sell them to hemophiliacs they were certain were already infected – rather than destroy the bad stock and lose the income.In the early 80s, I volunteered as a candy striper for the Red Cross blood program. There was no questionnaire for donors. I simply led them to a cot, stood by while their blood drained out, then helped them over to the cookies and juice. I thought I was helping to save lives. Starr’s book makes me wonder if I helped, however peripherally, to spread the disease that’s killed millions.This review comes from Morbid Curiosity #8.

  • Roberta
    2019-06-09 08:30

    I read the book in three big steps, enjoying each one in a different way.The first part is the historical one, and the funniest one. You'll travel from the French court to the Russian empire with some mad doctors, pioneers who experiment with blood. Disclaimer: I said "mad" in a benevolent way, but please keep in mind you can't apply today ethics, moral standards and hygiene practices to those times. Yes, you'll read about some Frankenstein-like experiment. Yes, you'll read about experimenting on and with animals. You could be grossed out.The second part is the one that went slower for me. Again, this is how I perceived the book and for you the reading could be smoother, as intende by the author. I realized I was less engaged when I was reading about the downing of the modern understanding of blood, mainly from WWI to WWII. As often the case, necessity is a strong motivator. Doctors had to deal with mass losses of blood and tried to come up with new techniques to save their patiences, even if it means putting themselves in danger on a battlefield. We also read about the genesis of blood banks and their competition in the free market.The last part is pretty much devoted to hepatitis and AIDS, focusing on those hemophiliacs around the world whose lives has been vastly improved by clotting factors and then tainted by a new, deadly and devastating disease. Some notable cases of transfusion-induced aids are presented, but the chronicle never appeal to the emotions of the reader. Although reading about Ryan White is emotional per se, Starr focused on telling us how the tainting of blood happened (and, due to the limited knowledge, I think it was not avoidable in the beginning), to the usual quest for profit. Yes, money is pretty much the reason why we let contaminated blood travels freely around the world way too long after the first signs of issues. Starr retold the story of the virus, from GRID to AIDS, and how the people in charged let it spread. Again: we're in 2015, HIV is no longer a short term death sentence, so it's easy to get enraged by some of the things these bureaucrats did or did not. In my experience though, human being tend to underestimate perils that are theoretical, not in-your-face. At the time, when knowledge was scarce, the virus was a statistic in progress. But as soon as more and more data or feedback came in those people were just reckless, and when they were finally brought to court is was too late, and the sentence too mild.

  • Lindz
    2019-06-20 07:53

    The use of blood for transfusions and testing is so commonplace for many people that it's notable mostly in the exceptions - those times when we're afraid of blood-borne pathogens, or a variety of religious beliefs that hold against it. I've had several transfusions after surgery, and I wouldn't describe myself as even hesitant - I trust the safety of the blood.Obviously this wasn't always the case, and indeed, still isn't. Starr traces blood transfusions from its theoretical beginnings, through first attempts (with animal blood and before knowledge of blood types), to its heyday in the world wars. All this leads to the crux of his story, which is a detailed explanation of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, as the heads of blood banks fought to save face at the cost of thousands of lives. Starr explains how the crisis was handled on a global scale, showing the actions and results of companies in the US, Japan, France, and other countries.The first half of this book was fascinating, the last half maddening, and I'll be honest, really shakes my faith in the Red Cross. Although I know the blood supply is safer now, there are always risks, and with the rise of other diseases a book like this is important as a warning and an example. It was incredibly well-researched and in-depth. It was written in 1998; I'd be fascinated to read a follow-up by the author.

  • Emily Ann Meyer
    2019-05-26 10:28

    Written in a conversational narrative style that made the technical subject interesting and approachable, I really enjoyed this book. I found the earlier history (up to WWII) the most fascinating of the aspect as very obvious things like the fact that the history of transfusion is only about 75 (now closer to 85) years old as compared to the 2500 year old history of blood letting blew my mind--especially when you consider that it's now pretty much standard and accepted practice. Later--into the standards and quality war, while an important public-policy topic (especially given the issue with AIDs-tainted blood products that became the highlight of the final chapters) was almost too "current" to captivate me and change my thinking the way the early stuff was.The author's analogy as well of comparing blood and its component costs to oil and its component costs was a big attention-grabber, and actually made me look forward to my next "DONATION."

  • Sarah Jane
    2019-06-24 08:56

    I ended up skimming through a lot of this book because it was just so jam-packed with information and history. I suppose some people might find this to be a good thing, especially if they are very interested in the subject matter, but it simply was not what I was looking for. Also, it's worth noting that the book itself is out-dated, having been written over 10 years ago. While the historical side of this is still valid, some of the scientific facts are not - much has changed in a decade. It was worth skimming at least.

  • Robin Larson
    2019-06-11 04:41

    Excellent book detailing the origins of blood transfusion all the way to the early 2000s. I'm a blood banker (although in a hospital, not a donor center) and I was fascinated. The industry has come so far. I'd recommend this book for all my fellow laboratory professionals and especially blood bankers. My only complaint was that it's a bit dry, and there were a few times the author didn't quite get the technical terms or concepts right. I can't remember any examples now though, so it must not have been that wrong. Now I need to go watch "Red Gold", the PBS series based on this book.

  • A.
    2019-06-03 04:29

    Very interesting book which focuses primarily on how blood donation centers came to exist. Lots of great information and very well told. This book also explained to me why people often think of plasma donation as something that takes place in sketchy neighborhoods for the purpose of making a fast buck. Though that is no longer the case, it has been in the past and this book helped me understand how that occurred and how blood donation centers have changed over the years. Learned a lot! Enjoyed the book!

  • Miller Sherling
    2019-06-21 02:41

    Interesting stuff. Could've used some editing, but man this author did an impressive amount of research. The chapter on how CDC researchers in the early '80s made the connection between a mystery disease that had showed up in 3 hemophiliacs and recognize it for the epidemic it was about to become, i.e., AIDS, read like a thriller. And an object lesson for how interaction between business and science and medicine will go down: poorly, with worse-than-necessary outcomes for all concerned.

  • Mckinley
    2019-06-17 07:37

    I liked the first part of historical overview quite a bit. The next part went into WWI and WWII with the need for blood followed by the commercialization of blood combined with the rise of AIDS within a political lens. Since it was written in the late 1990s that makes a lot of sense for that focus. (Now it would be more a chapter rather than half the book.)

  • Wrdwrrior
    2019-06-25 04:41

    This is a fascinating book along the lines of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It is a book for medical, business, military, and history buffs. The horrifying early medical experiments and the equally horrifying business tradeoffs made the book thoroughly readable. The 400 pages flew by without a stumble.

  • Wyn
    2019-06-02 10:27

    As a phlebotomist, I throughly enjoyed the anecdotes on bloodletting. This book was extremely well researched and gives you an indepth look at some of the cringing issues encountered in blood banking due to negligence and greed. A must read for anyone in the medical field.

  • Katherine
    2019-06-15 03:51

    This is one of the best science books I've ever read (and I read a lot of science nonfiction). It's riveting from the first chapter and full of fascinating stories about how our knowledge of blood and our understanding of its function in the human body has grown and changed over the ages.

  • Rachel
    2019-06-01 05:43

    The title of this book appealed to my more sadistic side. A very fascinating chronology of how we learned about different blood types, the tragedy of the AIDS crisis, and how the "blood donation" process is ultimately, like everything else, political.

  • Colleen
    2019-05-28 08:57

    Fantastic. The early history of blood transfusion was interesting, but I was afraid I 'd lose interest when he started talking about blood as a commodity. I was wrong. Thoroughly engrossing and important

  • Rachel McQuoid
    2019-06-10 08:44

    this demonstrated a chronology of how we learned about different blood types, the tragedy of the AIDS crisis, and how the "blood donation" process is linked in with capitalism.

  • Mrsculpepper
    2019-05-27 06:47

    really interesting. would love an update since this is a little outdated.

  • Christopher Hong
    2019-06-21 07:56

    Tracing the history of blood's medical and cultural significance from the middle ages through the present, it's a surprisingly compelling look at politics, science, and industry.

  • Jen Stepien
    2019-06-20 02:47

    Might be the Blood Banker in me but I really enjoyed this book!

  • Rharmer1607
    2019-05-25 02:27

    This book tells the story about how blood came to be so accepted as a medical treatment and that it was not for humanitarian reasons but for the $$$$$$.