Last Best Gifts

by Kieran Healy on August 3, 2006

My new book, Last Best Gifts: Altruism and the Market for Human Blood and Organs has just been published by the University of Chicago Press. You can buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells or of course any bookseller worth the name. There’s a website for the book, too. Amongst other things, there you can learn more about the cover image, which the people at Chicago did such a nice job with after I came across it by chance.

The book is a study of the social organization of exchange in human blood and organs. In a nutshell, it tries to show that gift exchange can do both more and less than we think when it comes to organizing the blood and organ supply: more, because there’s a lot of heterogeneity in actually-existing systems of donation. Some countries and regions do much better than others, and, in many cases (especially cadaveric donation), market incentives would probably not work any better. But also less, because gift exchange is not some magical mechanism for generating social solidarity out of thin air, especially in a procurement system that is increasingly rationalized and globalized. The book argues that the consequences of rationalizing the blood and organ supply are in many ways more important than the consequences of commodifying it. In particular, the logistical demands of procurement systems — short-run, nuts-and-bolts stuff about finding bodies and procuring organs — are in tension with the public account of donation as a sacred gift of life.

I’d like to think that the book has something new to contribute to the ongoing debate about commodifying human blood, organs and tissues. And I’d like to think that it’s written in an accessible and engaging way. And while I’m waiting for UPS to deliver my pony, I’d like you all to go and buy it, not just for yourself, but for your friends, and for the sake of this small kitten beside me. You wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to the kitten, would you?



Anthony 08.04.06 at 4:08 am

Would you accept a kidney as barter?


Mary Catherine Moran 08.04.06 at 5:05 am

I’d like you all to go and buy it, not just for yourself, but for your friends, and for the sake of this small kitten beside me.

You should be a little bit more specific about this. Ask people to buy it within a specified narrow time frame, so as to up your amazon ranking.


tom s. 08.04.06 at 7:06 am

Congratulations on such a timely publication.

Is there anything else of book length on this subject? It seems like an important topic where not only policies are still to be determined, but attitudes as well. At least, I know that I don’t know what I think about the subject. I’ve seen Becker’s and Scheper-Hughes’s articles, but nothing more comprehensive.

And cheap at $20. I’ll be buying a copy, so drop the kitten.


Bill Gardner 08.04.06 at 7:37 am


My close friend and research collaborator donated his kidney to a stranger. I just bought him a copy.
So we’ve met your demands. The snipers have surrounded your house, and you know that you can’t get away with this. So, please, release the kitten. We’re not going to hurt you.


Barry 08.04.06 at 8:03 am

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, kittens.


tina 08.04.06 at 8:10 am

Lovely! I will pick it up at the ASA.


toadman 08.04.06 at 8:37 am

I’d like to think that the book has something new to contribute…

Careful, there might be a writer for the that might disagree.

Congradulations on the book. I gave my heart away once, and I haven’t seen it since.


Dan Drezner 08.04.06 at 9:08 am

I promise to donate a kidney to the kitten if anything bad should happen.

Not necessarily my kidney….


ingrid robeyns 08.04.06 at 9:18 am

Many congratulations!

I know many people might find this rather irrelevant for an academic book, but I think your book has a BEAUTIFUL cover – both the composition and the colours. Unfortunately, I’ve been told both by an editor of an academic publisher and by an editor from a commercial publisher which is publishing academic books, that this doesn’t have an impact on your sales (sorry!).


dearieme 08.04.06 at 11:25 am

Barry, I agree; they are delicious.


Dan Simon 08.04.06 at 1:07 pm

I guess your publisher nixed the title, Two Nations, Divided By a Common Lung Wish?


Matt 08.04.06 at 2:24 pm

But what if we could cut up that kitten, and transplant its organs in to 5 or 6 other kittens, all of whom needed transplants, two lungs, a heart, a liver, two kiddnys, and all by some strange coincidence were just matched with this kitten… hmmm.. there may be a philosophy paper in this…


Antti Nannimus 08.04.06 at 4:25 pm


We’re really gonna miss that kitty.

Have a nice day,


djw 08.04.06 at 4:58 pm

Congrats! Sounds fascinating/


Ben 08.05.06 at 3:31 am

Slightly off topic (but maybe reply to #3) has anyone read Cecile Fabre’s Whose Body is it Anyway? Justice and the Integrity of the Person?


Bethany Bryson 08.05.06 at 12:16 pm

I’ve seen the previews and I can promise you all the kitten is safe. I just ordered three copies because that’s about how many I need on hand when I really use a book heavily (then want to loan it out and give it away, etc.) I’ll end up buying more later, and making everyone I know buy more.


Lewis Hyde 08.05.06 at 9:51 pm

“Is there anything else of book length on this subject?” The old standard on this topic is: The Gift Relationship: from Human Blood to Social Policy by Richard M. Titmuss (London: Allen & Unwin, 1970).

How nice to have a new analysis. Congratuations.


tom s. 08.06.06 at 10:17 am

ben, lewis hyde – thanks.


Eszter 08.06.06 at 10:42 am

This is wonderful, congratulations!

I wish the shipping wouldn’t take so long, this way I won’t be able to get it signed next week.


Gorkle 08.07.06 at 7:14 am

Like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other or so the cliche goes. You can’t have commodification without rationalization so whatever else rationalizing – organzing replacement organ inventory involves, adding the market will intensify the consequences of rationalization. Yes? No? Stossel?

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