UK & Comm Chatto & Windus (April 2012, Ed. Penny Hoare )
US Oxford University Press
William Harvey, A Man in Motion
For a man of such diminutive stature, William Harvey made a huge and inestimable impact on modern medicine. Arguably the greatest Englishman in the history of science after Isaac Newton, Harvey’s theory of the circulation of the blood overturned centuries of long-held beliefs, and unusually, he lived to see his own doctrine established in his lifetime.
Set in the thumping heart of late Renaissance London, Thomas Wright’s vivid portrait of Harvey also shows how his physiological ideas permeated culture and language, from London’s bustling trade networks to the discovery of meteorological cycles, and featuring a dramatic cast of historical characters, from Francis Bacon, England’s erstwhile Lord Chancellor and a former patient, and John Donne whose sensual poetry places the heart at the centre of man’s existence, to Robert Fludd, whose corroboration of Harvey’s ideas helped launch his circulation theory. He published his findings in his magnum opus De Motu Cordis in 1628, which he dedicated to King Charles I.
But just as Harvey’s theory placed the heart at the centre of man, it posited the King as the centre of the body politic. It was a conservative and dangerous allegiance – and just as cherished anatomical ideas could be toppled, so was the King in the ensuing Civil War. Harvey was exiled, his London home ransacked, and he died, gout-ridden, in the eaves of his brother’s house in Bishopsgate.
Circulation celebrates the remarkable rise of a yeoman’s son to the elevated position of King’s physician, and above all, admires an extraordinary mind amid a rich, fertile time in England’s intellectual history.