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