William Harvey's Revolutionary Idea

By Thomas Wright

History, Biography


Published by Chatto and Windus

Winner 2012

Set in Renaissance London, this biography charts one man's obsessive quest to understand the circulation of blood and overturn the long-held beliefs of his contemporaries.

William Harvey is one of the great English scientists who has taken his place in history alongside other luminaries like Darwin and Newton. In this biography, we see Harvey as a man, flawed in character, but brilliant as a scientist of his age.

Ignoring anatomical and physiological orthodoxy, which had been accepted since Roman times, Harvey theorised that blood flows to and from the heart in a closed system. Wright brings us into a gory world of corpse and living animal dissection, as we follow Harvey’s obsessive research and brilliant thinking.

‘Circulation’ is not a biography of a man in isolation; it envelops the grimy and vibrant atmosphere of late Renaissance London and the relationships of Harvey with his contemporaries. It features a dramatic cast of historical characters including Francis Bacon and Descarte, both of whom the choleric Harvey despised.

This is an account of the son of a lowly yeoman and his meteoric rise to the position of King’s physician. And how his fresh approach to scientific experimentation and dogged persistence revolutionised, not only anatomical orthodoxies, but also the politics and culture of his time.

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