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Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard

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A delectable true-crime story of scandal and murder at America’s most celebrated university. On November 23rd of 1849, in the heart of Boston, one of the city’s richest men simply vanished. Dr. George Parkman, a Brahmin who owned much of Boston’s West End, was last seen that afternoon visiting his alma mater, Harvard Medical School. Police scoured city tenements and the har A delectable true-crime story of scandal and murder at America’s most celebrated university. On November 23rd of 1849, in the heart of Boston, one of the city’s richest men simply vanished. Dr. George Parkman, a Brahmin who owned much of Boston’s West End, was last seen that afternoon visiting his alma mater, Harvard Medical School. Police scoured city tenements and the harbor, and offered hefty rewards as leads put the elusive Dr. Parkman at sea or hiding in Manhattan. But one Harvard janitor held a much darker suspicion: that their ruthless benefactor had never left the Medical School building alive. His shocking discoveries in a chemistry professor’s laboratory engulfed America in one of its most infamous trials: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. John White Webster. A baffling case of red herrings, grave robbery, and dismemberment—of Harvard’s greatest doctors investigating one of their own, for a murder hidden in a building full of cadavers—it became a landmark case in the use of medical forensics and the meaning of reasonable doubt. Paul Collins brings nineteenth-century Boston back to life in vivid detail, weaving together newspaper accounts, letters, journals, court transcripts, and memoirs from this groundbreaking case. Rich in characters and evocative in atmosphere, Blood & Ivy explores the fatal entanglement of new science and old money in one of America’s greatest murder mysteries.


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A delectable true-crime story of scandal and murder at America’s most celebrated university. On November 23rd of 1849, in the heart of Boston, one of the city’s richest men simply vanished. Dr. George Parkman, a Brahmin who owned much of Boston’s West End, was last seen that afternoon visiting his alma mater, Harvard Medical School. Police scoured city tenements and the har A delectable true-crime story of scandal and murder at America’s most celebrated university. On November 23rd of 1849, in the heart of Boston, one of the city’s richest men simply vanished. Dr. George Parkman, a Brahmin who owned much of Boston’s West End, was last seen that afternoon visiting his alma mater, Harvard Medical School. Police scoured city tenements and the harbor, and offered hefty rewards as leads put the elusive Dr. Parkman at sea or hiding in Manhattan. But one Harvard janitor held a much darker suspicion: that their ruthless benefactor had never left the Medical School building alive. His shocking discoveries in a chemistry professor’s laboratory engulfed America in one of its most infamous trials: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. John White Webster. A baffling case of red herrings, grave robbery, and dismemberment—of Harvard’s greatest doctors investigating one of their own, for a murder hidden in a building full of cadavers—it became a landmark case in the use of medical forensics and the meaning of reasonable doubt. Paul Collins brings nineteenth-century Boston back to life in vivid detail, weaving together newspaper accounts, letters, journals, court transcripts, and memoirs from this groundbreaking case. Rich in characters and evocative in atmosphere, Blood & Ivy explores the fatal entanglement of new science and old money in one of America’s greatest murder mysteries.

30 review for Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cindy H.

    Thank you to NetGalley and WW Norton Publishing for gifting me with an ARC of Blood & Ivy by Paul Collins. In exchange I offer my unbiased review. I absolutely loved this true crime account. Collins skillfully and artistically draws the reader into the mid 19th century and the exclusive halls of Harvard University. In 1849 Dr. George Parkman, a Harvard graduate and benefactor of the esteemed university left his home to run some errands and never returned. Foul play was quickly suspected and Thank you to NetGalley and WW Norton Publishing for gifting me with an ARC of Blood & Ivy by Paul Collins. In exchange I offer my unbiased review. I absolutely loved this true crime account. Collins skillfully and artistically draws the reader into the mid 19th century and the exclusive halls of Harvard University. In 1849 Dr. George Parkman, a Harvard graduate and benefactor of the esteemed university left his home to run some errands and never returned. Foul play was quickly suspected and within a week the culprit arrested. The book goes about describing the victim, the accused, the trial and the aftermath. I was riveted from page one and completely mesmerized by the startling conclusion. Paul Collins extensive research was evident as this nonfiction account read like fiction with all the astonishing details, newspaper headlines, letters and journals.Appearances from Harvard alumni, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow really added to the drama and mystery. Evocative and exhilarating this is a must read for all true crime fans and history buffs!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    True crime is not my usual genre, in fact, I think Devil in the White City is the only other true crime book I’ve read. For fans of that book, I recommend you give Collins a try. Blood and Ivy has that interesting narrative style of a lot of modern history books like Devil in the White City. Collins has an extensive list of references—over 60 pages of notes and sources at the end of the book—and judging by his acknowledgments, it took him a lot of time to pull it all together into something read True crime is not my usual genre, in fact, I think Devil in the White City is the only other true crime book I’ve read. For fans of that book, I recommend you give Collins a try. Blood and Ivy has that interesting narrative style of a lot of modern history books like Devil in the White City. Collins has an extensive list of references—over 60 pages of notes and sources at the end of the book—and judging by his acknowledgments, it took him a lot of time to pull it all together into something readable. Besides the grisly details and unraveling of the murder, the history of Boston, Cambridge, and specifically Harvard around 1849 was interesting to me. I was surprised by how many famous authors were connected to this case, either because they were faculty at Harvard, they knew Webster, or simply because they were alive during the trial and its aftermath. The Epilogue notes that the case was inspiration for Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which I didn’t know. The legal precedents that came out of this case were fascinating too, particularly what became known as the “Webster charge,” based on the judge’s definition of reasonable doubt for the jury. It endured over 100 years after the trial, and Massachusetts didn’t decide to modernize it until 2015. The history is by turns sad, perplexing, and disturbing. Collins did a nice job incorporating historical detail into his linear narrative of the investigation and trial. It was truly worth the read, and I’m interested in checking out his other work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Thebooktrail

    A real life crime of the century brought to grisly exquisite life! Take your reading scalpel to this one and get dissecting!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Graeme Roberts

    An elegant, beautifully structured tale from real life. Fascinating characters, just the right amount of detail, and a crystal-clear evocation of life in the Boston of 1849. I could smell it. Paul Collins is a modern master.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Blood & Ivy is another smart true crime book from Paul Collins. A slew of new types of evidence for the time and this great subject matter (a case that inspired Dickens!) will engage his existing fans and should bring a legion of new readers. Many thanks to NetGalley, W. W. Norton & Company, and Mr. Collins for the advanced copy for review. Full review can be found here: https://paulspicks.blog/2018/03/17/bl... Please check out all my reviews: https://paulspicks.blog

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paulcbry

    The book starts out focusing on cadavers but soon turns into a first rate murder mystery. The trial subsequent to the crime offers up the first clarification of the term 'reasonable doubt'. This is a terrific read from a terrific author. I look forward to more writings from him.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Paul Collins sets you squarely in the insular 1840s Harvard, and pages fly by as you're drawn in to the story of how a murder rocked this staid society. I picked up this book having some familiarity with the case, but the whole thing turned out to be so much more than I knew! Recommended for true crime, Harvard/Boston history, or legal history enthusiasts. I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.

  8. 4 out of 5

    nikkia neil

    Thanks W. W. Norton & Company for this ARC. All opinions are my own. This biography has so many echos into the present. You'll be outraged, engaged, and glued to your seat. Collins is a master at his craft.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Disclaimer: I received this book from GoodReads' First Reads program. Blood & Ivy is the story of a horrible murder that happened in mid-19th century Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dr. Parkman was making his rounds, collecting payments on debts owed him when he disappeared. A massive search and posted rewards turns up a whole lot of nothing. A janitor who works for one of the professors at Harvard notices something is wrong - one of the walls in the professor's lab is exceptionally hot. Worrying t Disclaimer: I received this book from GoodReads' First Reads program. Blood & Ivy is the story of a horrible murder that happened in mid-19th century Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dr. Parkman was making his rounds, collecting payments on debts owed him when he disappeared. A massive search and posted rewards turns up a whole lot of nothing. A janitor who works for one of the professors at Harvard notices something is wrong - one of the walls in the professor's lab is exceptionally hot. Worrying that a fire is in the next room, he investigates further. He finds nothing at first, but becomes suspicious, and while the professor is away, he breaks into the one area that hadn't been search - the privy. He manages to break through the wall into the privy and finds human remains. The police are notified, finding a torso and leg, and teeth and bones in the furnace. This leads to the arrest and eventual conviction of the janitor's employer, Dr. Webster. The trial becomes a huge sensation, with the professor claiming his innocence the whole time, and trying to pin the murder on the janitor. The jury doesn't buy it, and he is convicted and sentenced to death. In the end, he confesses to his crime and meets his maker. A very interesting true crime story, which I highly recommend to fans of the genre.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Virginia Van

    A true-crime account of a scandal at Harvard University in 1849 in which Dr. George Parkman, one Boston's richest men, disappeared after last being seen visiting the Harvard Medical School. But worse scandal was to come when Dr. John Webster, noted chemistry professor at the college, was charged with his murder. What resulted was a celebrated trial that became a landmark case in the use of medical forensics and the definition of the concept of reasonable doubt. Paul Collins beings 19th century B A true-crime account of a scandal at Harvard University in 1849 in which Dr. George Parkman, one Boston's richest men, disappeared after last being seen visiting the Harvard Medical School. But worse scandal was to come when Dr. John Webster, noted chemistry professor at the college, was charged with his murder. What resulted was a celebrated trial that became a landmark case in the use of medical forensics and the definition of the concept of reasonable doubt. Paul Collins beings 19th century Boston, with its class structure and love of gossip, vividly to light while creating credible three dimensional characters.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    3.5 stars Once again taking a star off for poor copy editing. I enjoyed this book. It revolves around Harvard and Harvard's out-sized place in Boston society during the mid 1800s as well as showing some far reaching "firsts" in criminal trials that still resonate today. Collins' style is a little jumpy so I can see some readers not enjoying that but if you don't mind the style, this is a great true crime/history read that was clearly well researched.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lina

    Loved it. Check out the iPhone app “Walking Cinema: Murder on Beacon Hill” Loved it! Check out the iPhone app “Walking Cinema: Murder on Beacon Hill” you can walk and see the actual locations

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    I always enjoy Collins' books. This one was very good at placing you in 1849 Cambridge. It was easy to "know" the characters. That was slightly frightening--to recognize how easily one might know someone just like the murderer or the murdered...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Jonsson

    Interesting look at a murder on Harvard campus in the 19th century that may have inspired "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Hopkins

    Harvard is the actual epitome of incest.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Great story well told. I was totally expecting a surprise but it never came (and maybe that's the surprise). Solid fun read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Robin Case

    An early case of murder and American justice, the book is interesting, but a little long and tedious.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marguerite

    Wonderful book full of insight into the lives of the murdered and accused. Highly recommend!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Very well written, but the story itself is a bit less compelling than I'd hoped. Still, the book is rich with details of the time. I especially enjoyed learning about the forensic science used at the time.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Randa Morgan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Higgins

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tim Callicutt

  23. 5 out of 5

    Yuliya

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Montgomery breh

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bill Tyroler

  26. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kathrine

  28. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

  30. 5 out of 5

    colleen peters

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