Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce

Front Cover
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Sep 5, 2012 - Science - 464 pages
Essence and emblem of life--feared, revered, mythologized, and used in magic and medicine from earliest times--human blood is now the center of a huge, secretive, and often dangerous worldwide commerce. It is a commerce whose impact upon humanity rivals that of any other business--millions of lives have been saved by blood and its various derivatives, and tens of thousands of lives have been lost. Douglas Starr tells how this came to be, in a sweeping history that ranges through the centuries.
With the dawn of science, blood came to be seen as a component of human anatomy, capable of being isolated, studied, used. Starr describes the first documented transfusion: In the seventeenth century, one of Louis XIV's court physicians transfers the blood of a calf into a madman to "cure" him. At the turn of the twentieth century a young researcher in Vienna identifies the basic blood groups, taking the first step toward successful transfusion. Then a New York doctor finds a way to stop blood from clotting, thereby making all transfusion possible.

In the 1930s, a Russian physician, in grisly improvisation, successfully uses cadaver blood to help living patients--and realizes that blood can be stored. The first blood bank is soon operating in Chicago.
During World War II, researchers, driven by battlefield needs, break down blood into usable components that are more easily stored and transported. This "fractionation" process--accomplished by a Harvard team--produces a host of pharmaceuticals, setting the stage for the global marketplace to come. Plasma, precisely because it can be made into long-lasting drugs, is shipped and traded for profit; today it is a $5 billion business.
The author recounts the tragic spread of AIDS through the distribution of contaminated blood products, and describes why and how related scandals have erupted around the world. Finally, he looks at the latest attempts to make artificial blood.
Douglas Starr has written a groundbreaking book that tackles a subject of universal and urgent importance and explores the perils and promises that lie ahead.

What people are saying - Write a review

BLOOD: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce

User Review  - Kirkus

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 ... Read full review

Blood: an epic history of medicine and commerce

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Starr, codirector of the graduate program in science journalism at Boston University, energetically plunges into the social, ethical, and economic history of one of the most mysterious and culturally ... Read full review


The Blood of a Gentle Calf
There Is No Remedy As Miraculous
A Strange Agglutination
Blood on the Hoof
Prelude to a Blood Bath
War Begins
Blood Cracks like
The Blood Boom
Bad Blood
Wildcat Days
The BloodServices Complex
All Our Lots Are Contaminated
Blood in a PostAIDS Society

Blood at the Front
Dr Naito
Dr Cohn
Acknowledgments A Note About the Author

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2012)

Douglas Starr is an associate professor of journalism and codirector of the Graduate Program in Science Journalism at Boston University. A former newspaper reporter and field biologist, he has written on the environment, medicine, and science for a variety of publications, including Smithsonian, Audubon, and Sports Illustrated. He was science editor of "Bodywatch," a health series that ran for three years on PBS. Mr. Starr lives near Boston with his wife and their two sons.

Bibliographic information