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on January 20, 2016
This is one of the best books I've read in a while. Well researched and well told.

I heartily disagree with one of the reviewers comments about "self-centeredness". Although I can certainly see how the writing of the book could be therapeutic and life changing for the author, I think he wrote the book with a great deal of awareness and humanity. James FitzGerald gave his readers a gift in the writing of the book.
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on September 11, 2010
What Disturbs Our Blood merits reading'and rereading. At its centre is an eloquent and deeply personal story of reclamation and transformation. The research and writing of this book have themselves been primary alchemical agents in Mr. FitzGerald's understanding and transcendence of his past and, quite literally, his walking into an altered future. It is written with unstinting fascination for the many strands of inquiry it pursues and the hard won intelligence of a unique human heart.

A family secret, the hidden suicide of his paternal grandfather, haunted FitzGerald's childhood. As he steadfastly unearthed the truth, he learned that this man who had been hardly mentioned in his family'even as his father strove to emulate him'had been a celebrated leader in the Canadian public health movement. His name was Gerry FitzGerald, of Irish heritage and immense energy, and he died in his 50's at the height of an illustrious medical career that included the founding of the world famous Connaught Laboratories and a key role in the discovery of insulin. The writer's father and Gerry's son, John, also a noteworthy medical pioneer, collapsed into a suicidal depression at the same age and never worked again.

On this scaffold, FitzGerald mounts several fascinating narratives, all with a view to fathoming his paternal heritage and unwinding his fate. He gives a sobering insider's view of growing up in the Anglo-Canadian establishment. The way things work at Upper Canada College and Forest Hill loom chillingly large. While living squarely in this milieu and insisting on a good many of its traditions, the author's parents embodied a gentile jazz-inflected bohemianism that was both characteristic of their generation and uniquely poignant in an overshadowing family atmosphere of denial and repression.

The very Irishness of Gerry is a source of fascination and the Irish temperament and heritage, both in Ireland and Upper Canada, are an absorbing thread in the book. Irish madness and madness in general are important subjects as FitzGerald brilliantly anatomizes both Gerry and John's seemingly abrupt fall from busy and highly regarded medical man to its obverse: repeatedly hospitalized, fragile, depressed, suicidal. The author juxtaposes the two threads of psychiatry competing for adherents through the decades. The history and practice of the shock, drug and get a grip approach used on his dad and grandfather is described in disquieting detail. The 'talking cure', of which FitzGerald has been a grateful beneficiary, is lightly touched on in the narrative but distinctively featured in the many dreams that have been key to his process of understanding.

The early development of the Canadian public health system is an important part of Gerry's story because he was a prime visionary and activist in it. FitzGerald depicts the personalities, the institutions, the politics and the triumphs in this singularly ground breaking era in Canadian history with telling detail and humanity. Interestingly, madness and suicide appear again and again in the annals of these hard driving medical pioneers.

FitzGerald worked on this book as he lived through his fifties, passing both his father and grandfather on the way. Finally one is left with a conviction that the human heart, with loving support, can penetrate the mystery of its unfolding and, in that self-revealing inquiry, reconfigure its fate.
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on November 6, 2013
At times the author has flashes of pure poetry in his writing, but only at times. The first 100 pages were more a shopping list of historical facts but once he got into creating a story he improved considerably. The history of Toronto was very interesting.
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on February 16, 2014
What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past does precisely what it sets out to do: redeem history. With all that we know today about the plasticity of the brain (the center of character and personality) it is indeed quite possible to reshape the future.

History that once headed down a devastating track was re-routed, by the author, to include the heart.

It was fascinating to learn about the pre-vaccine conditions in early 20th century Toronto, catastrophe Fitzgerald's medical family proudly did much to correct. It was equally stunning to learn about what Irish immigrants were up against as they established themselves in Ontario. One of the stiff injunctions was to keep one's feelings to oneself, to silence unresolved grief as one climbed the ladder to success. But as Fitzgerald makes clear - there is no ignoring - there's only stockpiling sadness until it breaks loose to chase you down.

A page-turner that details Canadian history in such a considered way that readers understand how unresolved pain must be redeemed - or passed on to another generation to suffer.

Eleanor Cowan, author of: A History of a Pedophile's Wife: Memoir of a Canadian Teacher and Writer
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on July 18, 2013
Fitzgerald's honest writing has increased my gratitude for the self-sacrificing work of some of Canada's medical heroes and made me appreciative of the collateral damage that "self-sacrifice" can inflict. What Disturbs Our Blood might be a great read for medical students, who are entering a profession with a wonderful history and a high suicide rate.
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on September 7, 2011
One of the most intriguing and insightful books on the study of human psychology, this book had me riveted from beginning to end. Fabulously written, James Fitzgerald deserves high literary praise, as well as huge credit for the groundbreaking work he's done to uncover the stories of his own ancestors, that ultimately helped him search and find solutions for his own life. This book is one of my favourites on the subject of mental illness and how little we know about it. I can't recommend it enough!!!
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on September 2, 2010
Though the subject of What Disturbs our Blood had no special relevance to me, James FitzGerald's evocative style and emotional power kept me riveted to the book. It deserves major literary acclaim.
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on November 19, 2011
Extremely well written. A must for all Canadians from both a historical and a personal perspective. I don't recall how many times I thought to myself "I did not know that".
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on September 1, 2010
This is an incredibly written book. James FitzGerald has written a book that is that is both a turnpager and a beautifully crafted history of his family. i highly recommend reading this book for its provoking storyline and historical signifigance.
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on June 17, 2012
WOW. This book is a keeper and one that should be read by anyone remotely interested in their family lines.
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