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Book review: Blood and Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard — by Paul Collins

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Posted on July 23, 2018 |
By Jenny Lyons



Book Review.jpg

(W. W. Norton & Company)

In 1849, a janitor at Harvard Medical College (a position with much broader, and more gruesome responsibilities than today’s janitors), along with the esteemed Professor John White Webster of the same college, were embroiled in one of the most infamous murder trials in America’s history, involving the disappearance of Dr. George Parkman, a decidedly wealthy resident of Boston’s West End. Set in a period of time when medical advances were perhaps outpacing understanding of the science, this true crime mystery is a very engaging and propulsive read. It’s a highly intelligent and historically accurate look at a scandalous murder at one of this country’s most elite institutions of higher education. What is especially fascinating is the wealth of eyewitness sources utilized by the author to add authenticity and context to his account, including newspaper articles, court transcripts, memoirs, and letters by the parties involved, all meticulously noted after the epilogue. Collins also used direct quotations from these sources to bring an immediacy that was unexpected in a book such as this one. Collins does a superb job of bringing the players in this drama to life.

— Reviewed by Jenny Lyons of The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.

More 19th-century narratives

Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency, by Dan Abrams

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston

News of the World, by Paulette Jiles

In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein, by Fiona Sampson

West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express, by Jim DeFelice

Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power, by Claudia Renton

Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York, by Stacy Horn

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