cover image The Wine-Dark Sea Within: A Turbulent History of Blood

The Wine-Dark Sea Within: A Turbulent History of Blood

Dhun Sethna. Basic, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5416-0066-9

Cardiologist Sethna debuts with a comprehensive if clunky medical history of the circulatory system. Covering milestones including the early Greek thinkers who first recognized the heart as “a distinct organ” and English physician William Harvey’s 1628 discovery of how blood circulates, Sethna details a millennium of advancements as well as a few wrong turns (such as Roman physician Galen’s assertion that veins sprung from the liver). He describes scores of experiments—Leonardo da Vinci using a wine cask valve and live pig hearts to understand how the heart pumps blood, for example—and recounts historical controversies, such as whether the soul itself might be blood. While Sethna does a great job explaining how each discovery contributed to the modern understanding of how the heart works, his writing can be distracting (“Eccentricity and a disregard for conventions were at no time un-sympathetic to him. Among the pleasing errors of his young mind was his opinion of his own importance,” he writes of surgeon Realdo Colombo), and he’s prone to platitudes (“In academics, as in love, it does not do to give oneself wholly”). Still, it’s an impressive story; devotees of medical history will have plenty to enjoy. (June)