A bloody good read

Dive into the his­tory of blood metic­u­lously re­searched and drip­ping with au­thor’s dry wit

Waterloo Region Record - - Books - Mar­cia Kaye has won more than a dozen awards for her health jour­nal­ism. MAR­CIA KAYE Spe­cial to the Star

Un­less you’re in the med­i­cal field, you might not think there’s much for you in a book ti­tled “Nine Pints: A Jour­ney Through the Money, Medicine, and Mys­ter­ies of Blood.” But you’d be mis­taken.

Rose Ge­orge, a British jour­nal­ist and non-fic­tion au­thor (“The Big Ne­ces­sity,” “Ninety Per­cent of Ev­ery­thing”), has spun this ev­ery­day bod­ily fluid — of which we each have at least nine pints (4.5 litres) — into nine wildly dis­parate chap­ters that are each re­lated to blood. Ge­orge, a blood­hound of a re­porter, trav­els ex­ten­sively to bring us so­cial, cul­tural, med­i­cal, his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal is­sues around this won­drous fluid.

There’s an in­trigu­ing chap­ter on leeches, those blood­suck­ing crea­tures of an­cient medicine and “Fear Fac­tor” chal­lenges, now used widely in plas­tic surgery to drain ex­cess blood fol­low­ing reat­tach­ment of a rav­aged ear or torn-off fin­ger. Ge­orge vis­its a leech-grow­ing fa­cil­ity in Wales to bring us ev­ery bloody de­tail of the pro­ce­dure.

In Saska­toon she ex­plores the con­tro­ver­sial busi­ness of sell­ing plasma, the liq­uid-gold com­po­nent of blood used in drug man­u­fac­tur­ing. While sell­ing blood is il­le­gal in Canada, pay­ing for plasma is al­lowed in some provinces, in­clud­ing Saskatchewan. Ge­orge in­ves­ti­gates the ethics around re­cruit­ing “plassers,” reg­u­lar plasma sellers who do­nate weekly for cash.

There’s a dis­turb­ing chap­ter on HIV/ AIDS, now a lead­ing cause of death and dis­ease in young women glob­ally. In South Africa, Ge­orge in­ter­views Capetown school­girls about “blessers,” men who get un­pro­tected sex in ex­change for tak­ing a girl shop­ping or to a hair salon.

Some top­ics are rich, oth­ers a lit­tle ane­mic. Ge­orge al­most lost me in an overly long chap­ter on British sci­en­tist Janet Vaughan, who set up our mod­ern sys­tem of blood do­na­tion and trans­fu­sion.

But she taps a pow­er­ful vein in dis­cussing the shame and se­crecy around men­stru­a­tion. She talks to vil­lagers in ru­ral Nepal where men­stru­at­ing fe­males — whose very touch is be­lieved to cause food to rot, flow­ers to wilt and men to per­ish — are ban­ished to un­heated sheds.

In many coun­tries, the lack of toi­lets in schools causes girls to drop out as soon as they reach pu­berty. That’s the real bloody shame.

There’s a weird and won­der­ful pro­file of Men­strual Man, an un­e­d­u­cated In­dian in­ven­tor who de­signed a ma­chine that al­lows poor coun­tries to man­u­fac­ture low-cost san­i­tary pads.

Vam­pires, he­mo­philia, blood types — the wealth and va­ri­ety of sub­jects, each metic­u­lously re­searched and laced with Ge­orge’s dry York­shire hu­mour and oc­ca­sional right­eous anger, means “Nine Pints” has some­thing for ev­ery­one.


Rose Ge­orge in­ves­ti­gates the so­cial, cul­tural, med­i­cal, his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal is­sues around blood.

“Nine Pints: A Jour­ney Through the Money, Medicine, and Mys­ter­ies of Blood,” by Rose Ge­orge, Henry Holt and Com­pany, 368 pages, $39

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