For my latest book I headed inside the body to look at blood, a marvellous substance that can kill us or save us; that is feared and revered, and always has been. But I also travelled widely — to India, Nepal, South Africa and the Canadian prairies — to understand the place of blood in our world. I explored why menstrual blood is still considered so taboo, girls are forced to live in unheated sheds when they have their periods; how modern trauma care is maybe using the wrong kind of blood; why leeches are still found in hospital pharmacies; and why thousands of people are still seeking justice after they were given contaminated blood products in the 1980s.
I learned dazzling facts about blood. Every three seconds, a person receives some from a stranger. Our veins and arteries, measured, are sixty thousand miles long, or twice the circumference of the earth. Every day, our trillion red blood cells travel about twelve thousand miles around our bodies. There are more than 300 known blood types, far more than A, B, O, and scientists still don't know why we have them.
I discovered wonderful characters such as Dame Janet Vaughan, a pioneering haematologist who helped set up the modern blood supply in England, but who was dismissed by her boss as "a very naughty little girl." I met Arunchalam Muruganantham, a poorly educated machine worker who asked his wife one day what she was hiding behind her back. Because it was "nasty cloths," (menstrual rags), Muruga decided to change the lives of millions of women in India and elsewhere.
Finally I explore the future of blood, which may be synthetic, and why Silicon Valley millionaires think injecting young blood will give them youth (actually a desire as old as humanity.)
Also, there are vampires.
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If you get grossed out by blood, this one probably isn’t for you. But if you’re like me and find it fascinating, you’ll enjoy this book by a British journalist with an especially personal connection to the subject. I’m a big fan of books that go deep on one specific topic, so Nine Pints (the title refers to the volume of blood in the average adult) was right up my alley. It’s filled with super-interesting facts that will leave you with a new appreciation for blood.
In a wide-ranging and energetic new book, “Nine Pints” (Metropolitan), the British journalist Rose George examines not only the unique biology of this substance but also the lore and tradition surrounding it, and even its connections to the origins of the earth and of life itself. “The iron in our blood comes from the death of supernovas, like all iron on our planet,” she writes. “This bright red liquid . . . contains salt and water, like the sea we possibly came from.”
There is nothing like blood to grab the attention, as anyone who has found some in their urine will testify. The estimable British journalist Rose George has now written an entire, very good book about what Goethe called this “amiable juice.” [...] the qualities George brings to everything she writes: a no-nonsense briskness on the page; a forensic zeal; a potent moral sensibility. She’s a nimble writer, one who walks in fear of euphemism or pretension. There are no peacock displays of pointless erudition in her work; no recondite allusions are dragged in. She rips open her topics as if they were bags of chips. [...] As if George were pinching and expanding an image on a screen, “Nine Pints” expands to open up a world.
—New York Times
George’s journalistic eye is combined with sharp moral judgment. [...] What we know about blood is still so limited. “Blood is not done teaching us what it can do. More wonders will come,” George says. This absorbing, vital book by one of the best non-fiction writers working today is a wonder in its own right.
It is 10 years since I last read a book that tackled taboos so fearlessly. It was also by Rose George, also excellent and its subject was The Big Necessity, or human waste and how we get rid of it. [...] If Nine Pints was just a pop-science-meets-cultural-history book about blood donation and periods it would be excellent. But this is also a travel book themed, like The Big Necessity, around issues of public health. [...] This is a brave book, then. It is also powerfully feminist. Not just how it tackles women’s issues and women’s history but for the coolly radical way it thinks, and its agitator enthusiasm. [...] This fierce and forensic book wrestles our taboos to the ground and tears off the plaster; what it exposes is strangely beautiful
George, a bloodhound of a reporter, travels extensively to bring us social, cultural, medical, historical and political issues around this wondrous fluid.[...] 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’s absorbing book is full of […] offbeat facts: it is a series of eye-opening excursions into the history and science of blood… She is particularly revealing on the history of voluntary donation… Fascinating
What’s notable about George’s work, and, in particular, this book – is her approach to the subject and how deftly she commutates vast tracts of information. George has clearly undertaken huge volume of research and travel, but its presented engagingly, often sardonically … Nine Pints is a hugely intelligent, humane and riveting work, and from illness to industry, George is an engaging guide though the bloodstream.
It’s surprising that we’re ignorant about something as vital as blood. Before I read this book I couldn’t even have told you where in the body it was made — the bone marrow, I have since learnt. Good job, then, that we have Rose George, who boldly wades forth into tides of the red stuff. [...] George writes immensely readable prose. […] This is serious, weighty nonfiction. And a good thing too.
Blood, George notes, is revered, feared and mysterious — the stuff of legend. Chief among the legends are vampires, which, naturally, make an appearance in the book. But in George’s hands, ancient tales of purported blood sucking lead readers to modern-day experiments examining whether blood can truly bring youth and health when transferred to the old or sick. George’s bright writing and companionable tone, along with a healthy dose of skepticism, make her a welcome guide to the past and the future of this giver and taker of life.
Blood is life. Blood is death. Writer Rose George’s book ranges extensively and often disturbingly between these contradictory extremes. George (whose previous books examined shipping and human waste) develops each theme in a series of engaging personal stories and journeys.
Particularly gripping are chapters featuring interviews with HIV-positive South African youth and sections thoughtfully detailing the evolution and “intent and cunning” resilience of the HIV virus, which virologists describe with awe and dread simultaneously. The author packs her book with the kinds of provocative, witty, and rigorously reported facts and stories sure to make readers view the integral fluid coursing through our veins in a whole new way.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Journalist George (Ninety Percent of Everything) offers an insightful, fast-paced account of the science, politics, and social history of blood. 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.”
Blood is feared and revered, and it is continually dying and renewing. Its power is mystical, emotional, and biological. Blood infuses our language: bloodthirsty, blood-chilling, blood brothers. George (Ninety Percent of Everything, 2013) delivers an informative, elegant, and provocative exploration of the life- giving substance she describes as "stardust and the sea" for its iron content derived from the demise of supernovas and its water and salt from the oceans of our origin.
—Booklist (starred review)
Each chapter of Nine Pints reflects George’s experience, personal investment, and broad attention to the historical, political, social, biological, and moral aspects of blood. If the organizational thread is not always easy to follow, the book nevertheless overflows with telling examples—some fantastic, some uncanny, all informative about the sanguinary fluid.