What were the principal causes of death in the past? Could your ancestor have been affected? How was disease investigated and treated, and what did our ancestors think about the illnesses and the accidents that might befall them? Simon Wills's fascinating survey of the diseases that had an impact on their lives seeks to answer these questions. His graphic, detailed account offers an unusual and informative view of the threats that our ancestors lived with and died of. He describes the common causes of death - cancer, cholera, dysentery, influenza, malaria, scurvy, smallpox, stroke, tuberculosis, typhus, yellow fever, venereal disease and the afflictions of old age. Alcoholism is included, as are childbirth and childhood infections, heart disease, mental illness and dementia. Accidents feature prominently - road and rail accidents, accidents at work - and death through addiction and abuse is covered as well as death through violence and war. Simon Wills's work gives a vivid picture of the hazards our ancestors faced and their understanding of them. It also reveals how life and death have changed over the centuries, how medical science has advanced so that some once-mortal illnesses are now curable while others are just as deadly now as they were then. In addition to describing causes of death and setting them in the context of the times, his book shows readers how to find and interpret patient records, death certificates and other documents in order to gain an accurate impression of how their ancestors died.
Simon Wills's novel "Lifeboatmen" is a surprising but true story set in 1866. Seen through the eyes of Richard Stokes, the lifeboat coxswain, it tells the story of the early days of the lifeboat service when faced with the worst weather at sea for over 150 years. Lifeboatmen are famed for their courage and volunteer to risk their lives to save others. But what happens when things don't go according to plan in the middle of a hurricane?
Simon Wills has been researching maritime ancestors for over twenty-five years, and writes for many genealogy and social history magazines including Discover Your History, BBC Who Do You Think You Are magazine, and Family Tree. In his non-fiction books he is noted for his engaging yet practical approach that focuses on telling a story as well as the information needs of his readers. Simon uses archive materials and historical accounts to illustrate his books, as he believes that contemporary detail brings readers closer to events that affected our ancestors. He likes to guide readers on how to take their own interests further, and reviewers have noted that he manages to do this whilst creating a very readable account.
Simon also has a longstanding interest in the history of healthcare and works part-time as an information adviser to the NHS. When he's not working, his interests include cycling, cricket, and wildlife.
Due out in 2014 is Simon's "Voyages From The Past: The History of British Passengers At Sea". This book tells the true stories of ordinary people who travelled by sea between 1600 and 1940, using their experiences as illustrations of what life was like for our ancestors who ventured into the oceans. Each voyage is full of the amusing, tragic, or everyday anecdotes of real people - from the passenger who complained that the captain smelled so much that it put her off her breakfast, to the man who watched many of his fellow travellers die of ship's fever. Taken together they show how the passenger experience has improved over the centuries.