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Circulation: William Harvey’s Revolutionary Idea

Thomas Wright

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Published by Chatto & Windus, part of Vintage Publishing

Format: Hardback


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EAN: 9780701185732
Published: 5 Apr 2012


About the book


Diminutive, brilliant and choleric, William Harvey had a huge impact on anatomy and modern biology. Arguably the greatest Englishman in the history of science after Newton and Darwin, Harvey's obsessive quest to understand the movement of the blood overturned beliefs held by anatomists and physicians since Roman times. His circulation theory was as controversial in its day as Copernicus' idea that the earth revolved around the sun.

Set in the beating heart of late Renaissance London, Thomas Wright's vivid and visceral biography shows how Harvey drew inspiration not only from his dissections and vivisections, but also from the world around him: from England's bustling trade networks to technological developments of the time. It features a dramatic cast of historical characters, including Francis Bacon, England's Lord Chancellor and a recalcitrant patient of Harvey's; John Donne, a poet and preacher fascinated with anatomy and the human heart; and King Charles I, Harvey's beloved patron and witness to many of his experiments.

Harvey's circulation theory, in turn, permeated and altered the culture and language of its time, influencing poets and economists. To the dismay of the arch-Royalist Harvey, it also encouraged radical political ideas - and just as cherished anatomical orthodoxies could be toppled, so was the King during the Civil War. In more ways than one, Harvey's idea was truly revolutionary, yet astonishingly, it gained currency in his lifetime.

Circulation charts the remarkable rise of a yeoman's son to the position of King's physician, offers a fresh interpretation of his ideas, and above all, celebrates a brilliant mind that epitomized a rich moment in England's intellectual history.

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What the critics say

Thomas Wright's book opens brilliantly and bloodily and continues - forgive the pun - in the same vein... A captivating intellectually gripping journey into our country's scientific past
- Mail on Sunday

Thomas Wright's lively little book on Harvey's revolutionary idea is a panegyric to the man's whirring mind, and to the excitements of thinking more generally
- Daily Telegraph

A concise, skilful and often eloquent book
- The Guardian

In Circulation, Wright tells a good story, warts and all
- Independent

Lives that look successful from the outside may seem failures to those who live them. Thomas Wright’s acute, imaginative book suggests William Harvey’s life was like that
- Sunday Times

As soon as I started this book, I was gripped with curiosity
- Spectator

Excellent and often bloodthirsty... A highly readable account of a great Englishman
- The Tablet

Highly readable
- Times Literary Supplement

An excellent account of Harvey’s researches on the heart and circulation
- Lancet

Chair of [Wellcome Prize] judges Mark Lawson said: “It will be a great surprise if we do not eventually see ‘Circulation: The Movie’'
- Bookseller

An unflinching account of how William Harvey came to understand the workings of the heart
- Evening Standard

About the Author

Thomas Wright was educated at Saint Thomas More RC School, Bedford, and Magdalen College, Oxford. His groundbreaking Oscar's Books (Chatto & Windus, 2008), a portrait of his hero Oscar Wilde though his reading, was hailed by Craig Brown as 'an original and eccentric landmark in the art of literary biography'. His play, Death in Genoa, was recently produced in London and broadcast on website of The Independent. He lives in Oxford.

Thomas Wright

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