An eye-opening exploration of blood, the lifegiving substance with the power of taboo, the value of diamonds and the promise of breakthrough science
Blood carries life, yet the sight of it makes people faint. It is a waste product and a commodity pricier than oil. It can save lives and transmit deadly infections. Each one of us has roughly nine pints of it, yet many don’t even know their own blood type. And for all its ubiquitousness, the few tablespoons of blood discharged by 800 million women are still regarded as taboo: menstruation is perhaps the single most demonized biological event.
Rose George, author of The Big Necessity, is renowned for her intrepid work on topics that are invisible but vitally important. In Nine Pints, she takes us from ancient practices of bloodletting to the breakthough of the "liquid biopsy," which promises to diagnose cancer and other diseases with a simple blood test. She introduces Janet Vaughan, who set up the world’s first system of mass blood donation during the Blitz, and Arunachalam Muruganantham, known as “Menstrual Man” for his work on sanitary pads for developing countries. She probes the lucrative business of plasma transfusions, in which the US is known as the “OPEC of plasma.” And she looks to the future, as researchers seek to bring synthetic blood to a hospital near you.
Spanning science and politics, stories and global epidemics, Nine Pints reveals our life's blood in an entirely new light.
Nine Pints was named one of Bill Gates recommended summer reading titles for 2019.
Journalist George (Ninety Percent of Everything) offers an insightful, fast-paced account of the science, politics, and social history of blood. By visiting places that include a donation center in India and a leech farm in Wales (which, after a 2007 terrorist attack in London, supplied hospitals with leeches used in reconstructive surgery), she explores the fragility of the international blood supply. She writes poignantly about blood-borne viruses, such as Ebola, HIV, and Zika, and about the difficulty of ensuring that donated blood is safe, as underscored by tainted blood scandals in the U.S. and U.K. in the 1970s and in Canada as recently as 2013. Taboos associated with blood are vividly reported in Nepal, where George interviews young women banned from their homes and forced to sleep in sheds while menstruating, and in India, where she tells the intriguing story of engineer and entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham, whose development and successful marketing of a "low-cost mini sanitary napkin manufacturing machine" began with his wearing a goat-blood-filled fake uterus made from a football. Noting that "every three seconds, somewhere in the world, a person receives a stranger's blood," this wide-reaching, lively survey makes clear that blood has become a "commodity that is dearer than oil."