William Harvey by Thomas Wright
A Life in Circulation

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In 1628, the English physician William Harvey published his revolutionary theory of blood circulation. Offering a radical conception of the workings of the human body and the function of the heart, Harvey's theory overthrew centuries of anatomical and physiological orthodoxy and had profound consequences for the history of science. It also had an enormous impact on culture more generally, influencing economists, poets and political thinkers, for whom the theory triumphed not as empirical fact but as a remarkable philosophical idea.
In the first major biographical study of Harvey in 50 years, Thomas Wright charts the meteoric rise of a yeoman's son to the elevated position of King Charles I's physician, taking the reader from farmlands of Kent to England's royal palaces, and paints a vivid portrait of an extraordinary mind formed at a fertile time in England's intellectual history. Set in late Renaissance London, the book features an illustrious cast of historical characters, from Francis Bacon and John Donne to Robert Fludd, whose corroboration of Harvey's ideas helped launch his circulation theory.
After he published his discoveries, Harvey became famous throughout Europe, where he demonstrated his theory through public vivisections. Although his ideas met with vociferous opposition, they eventually triumphed and Harvey became renowned as the only man in the history of natural philosophy to live to see a revolutionary theory gain wide currency. But just as intellectual ideas could be toppled, so too could kings. When Charles I was overthrown during the Civil War of the 1640s, his loyal court physician fell also, and Harvey, an unrepentant Royalist, was banished from London under the English Republic. He died in the late 1650s, a gout-ridden, melancholy man, uncertain of his achievement.

A victim of the political turmoil of the times, William Harvey was nevertheless the mainspring of vast historical changes in anatomy and physiology. Wright's biography skillfully repositions Harvey as a man who embodied the intellectual and cultural spirit of his age, and launched a revolution that would continue to run its course long after his death.

About Thomas Wright

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Thomas Wright is the author of Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde, and of numerous articles for publications such as the Times Literary Supplement and the Independent. He is based in Italy and Oxford, where he teaches.
Published September 1, 2012 by Oxford University Press. 287 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Professional & Technical, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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In 1628, the socially ambitious and “very cholerique” Harvey shook up the world of anatomy by presenting the radical idea that the heart pumped blood, which then circulated rapidly through both arteries and veins—opposing the revered Galen’s ideas about the role of the heart, arteries, an...

Jul 23 2012 | Read Full Review of William Harvey: A Life in Cir...

The Telegraph

Small and beady eyed with dexterous hands and a rapid pace, Dr William Harvey was a man whose perpetual motion matched that of the human heart, whose secrets spilled beneath his scalpel.

Apr 05 2012 | Read Full Review of William Harvey: A Life in Cir...


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...

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BBC History Magazine

Its author, Thomas Wright, is renowned as an expert on Oscar Wilde, but here he glories in the gory minutiae of Renaissance dissections, focusing in particular on England’s royal physician William Harvey.

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