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William Harvey: A Life in Circulation

Thomas Wright

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Description

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.

Publishers Weekly Review

Jul 23, 2012 – Wright’s (Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde) “biography of an idea as much as... of a man” presents a wonderful portrait not only of physician William Harvey but also of the changing face of the study of medicine and scientific inquiry in Europe in the early 17th century. 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, and veins. Harvey challenged the medical establishment with private experiments on lower animals and public presentations of the forceful expulsion of blood from a dog’s punctured pulmonary artery. Bold recreations of such events in Harvey’s life are interspersed with essays illuminating the context in which he developed his ideas, such as the history of animal vivisection as a model for human anatomy. Other essays muse on broader cultural concepts such as metaphorical understandings of the heart and the extension of Harvey’s ideas even beyond where he himself was comfortable. Wright pulls these threads together to create an enjoyably enlightening history of science, with more than enough background included to make this worthwhile for a general academic audience. 36 illus.
William Harvey: A Life in Circulation
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  • $21.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Medical
  • Published: Sep 01, 2012
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Seller: Oxford University Press
  • Print Length: 288 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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