William Harvey: A Life in Circulation

Thomas Wright, Author
Thomas Wright. Oxford Univ, $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-19-993169-9
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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. Agent: Karolina Sutton, Curtis Brown (U.K.) (Oct,)
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