12 Days of Books: Walking Among Ghosts

By Holly Tucker (W&M Editor)

To celebrate the holidays and 3 years of Wonders & Marvels, we’re giving away 12 signed copies of books by our regular contributors.  If you’d like a signed copy of this book, please leave a comment below. Winners will be announced on December 24.

While researching this book, I traveled often to specialized library collections abroad and walked the streets of Paris and London to retrace the steps of my seventeenth-century doctors, patients, and killers.  Most often, my strolls were an exercise of trying to imagine the past–rather than actually walking in it.  Life and time move on.  Physical spaces get repurposed, demolished, rebuilt.  And to my great disappointment, Louis XIV will never greet me at the gates of Versailles.  (More on that crazy fantasy here.)

This was not the case at the Hôtel Montmor, the private residence where the main “character” of my nonfiction book did his horrific animal-to-human blood transfusion experiments.

I remember waiting for what seemed like hours one beautiful May day for someone to exit the soaring wood doors of the impressive compound on the Rue du Temple just so I could steal a peek at what lay behind.  Once I finally gained access, I stood in the cour d’honneur, mouth agape and eyes watering.  I was joyous…and overwhelmed.

Everything was precisely as I had imagined it after having worked so long with period maps, architectural plans, and descriptions in manuscript letters.  The concierge of the building, Jean-Marie Carpentier, approached me cautiously, likely wondering if I were not a bit like the mentally-ill man that Baptiste used as one of his first transfusion patients.

As I explained in French (thanks to my French Grandmother, from whom I learned the language), the words came tumbling out in near gasps.  Up there, that’s where Montmor’s private scientific Academy met.  This is the staircase Denis walked up on the night of his history-making experiment.  Under these dormers there is where Mauroy stayed after the transfusion.

After Monsieur Carpentier confirmed to my delight that the staircase, the balustrade, the tiles, all of it was in its original state, we spent the rest of the afternoon together exploring the building and what is left of the gardens–teaching each other about its rich history.  As we strolled among the ghosts, I was reminded once again of how insanely grateful I am to get to the type of research I do as a researcher, teacher, and writer.

Holly Tucker is Professor of Medicine, Health & Society and Professor of French Studies at Vanderbilt University.  Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist in Science & Technology.  It was a Times Literary Supplement and Seattle Times Book of the Year.  Her next book, on the early history of forensics, is under contract with W.W. Norton.


  1. cregal says

    Just finished “Circulation” & “Blood Work” would be an exciting follow up. I find this genre the most intriguing & relevant to the artist since the intricacies of questions posed opens debate while providing inspiration.

  2. Jen R says

    I listened to the Stuff You Missed in History Class interview with Holly Tucker about Blood Work and knew then that I had to read it. Medical history is so fascinating.

  3. mrspie says

    Sounds like an interesting book. I’ve recently finished a run of reading about the history of dissection and I wonder why we hardly teach this sort of thing in school at all. Maybe people are squeamish about the ethics?

  4. Halpern says

    Tantalizing glimpses into another world of pretty delirious research! Blood is of such historical and symbolic significance, and often one area is neglected for the other. i would eagerly read this. And hopefully also but not exclusively be encouraged in my own forays — into the stories, the research, not macabre experiments! Congratulations in any case!

  5. says

    There is something about seeing a place that you have only read or heard about – but that you have obsessed about – that is breathtaking. I know I have experienced it a few times, and still remember each clearly!

  6. Janet Oakley says

    I remember some program like 60 minutes doing a story on blood at long ago at medical school in Edinburgh (?). Bio/archaeologists were able to take samples from the earth near what was a drainage area and figure out blood types of the day (1300- 1700) History and blood work and the development of medical science. Cool.

  7. Bryn Hammond says

    Ooh… have to Comment. This book would be so valuable. I need to know more about early medicine. I’ve read a little on battle surgery… enough to know you were more likely to surivive your wounds without it. And a book on ‘War Before Civilization’ backs that up with the survivability of wounds, before the drastic practices of war sugeons. Thanks for the opportunity.

  8. librarypat says

    When one reads of early medical practices and experiments, it is chilling. Even more so are some of the things that happen today when we should know better. It was fascinating reading about your work on it when it first came out. I hope the book has done well for her.

  9. says

    I remember returning to Spain (where I had lived about ten years) to do some research for my dissertation. It was great to see the places I’d been studying about.

    I would love a copy of this book.

  10. says

    Hi everyone! So excited to know you’re interested in the book. We’ll be picking a winner on the 21st. But PLEASE drop a note in the comments section if you want to know anything about the gory murder mystery behind the first transfusions. All my best, Holly

  11. Jerry Travis says

    As a French-American (Cajun), and a NYC tourguide steeped in the lore and gore of this city, I would love to walk into this history with you.

  12. Jeff Wright says

    Too late to get in? I hope not. I’ve had this on my list since I heard the episodes on Stuff You Missed in History Class.

  13. esr says

    Holly, I saw your presentation and review on Cspan BookTV last year which led me to your website. I have been a subscriber for over a year, I think. I am a senior citizen physician (internal medicine) and would LOVE to be rewarded with one of your books. By the way, my oldest son and youngest daughter have degrees from Vanderbilt! Go ‘Dores!! (And, Merry Christmas!!)

  14. Emily jane says

    This sounds brilliant! It combines my interests in cities, literature and history of science, medicine and technology. Would be a very welcome addition to my collection and in my MA studies this year.

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