Top positive review
One person found this helpful
A scholarly and enjoyable account of one of the giants of pre-scientific medicine
on 27 April 2014
There is an encouraging recent trend in critically revising the biographies of some of the pioneers of modern medicine( Paracelsus, Thomas Willis, William Harvey) in an attempt to integrate the development of Medicine into the wider Scientific Revolution with its emphasis on empirical observation. Even though Medical Science has lagged well behind the rest until the middle of the 19th Century.The author of this engaging intellectual biography succeeds despite the paucity of contemporary accounts, in placing Harvey's life and discoveries within the cultural and socio political context of the early 17 th Century. He describes the empirical and intellectual sources of his revolutionary theory.Although firmly embedded in the traditional Galenic and Aristotelian ideological framework he was guided by the Italian Renaissance novel approaches to anatomical studies with the widespread practice of animal vivisection and human dissection.Vesalius, Fabricius and Columbo had already paved the way by questioning Galenic orthodoxy.
In a series of penetrating essays we follow the labours of Harvey's mind grappling with analogies and metaphors from the observed natural and manmade worlds (river flow, cisterns ,conduits) supplemented by images and notions from the works of political economists , theologians and even alchemists as he attempts to fit his empirical findings within an elaborate philosophical scheme. For instance the notion of circular perfect motion derived from the "Hermetic " philosophers Robert Fludd and Giordano Bruno stimulated his scientific imagination and in turn informed his experimental endeavours.
The text brings into focus the amazing energy, inquisitiveness and single mindedness of the ambitious yeoman's son who like the rest of his family was an astute social climber and loyal Royalist. His theory was attacked by the staunch Galenist medical establishment while greeted with enthusiasm by various other intellectuals. It finally became accepted in his own lifetime amongst the younger generation of physicians and anatomists.This was helped by the gradual dominance of the Cartesian mechanical philosophy from which he ironically kept aloof. He surprisingly shunned as well the methodologies inspired by Francis Bacon and Galileo.
In short a skilful well researched work deserving the accolades it received. A minor criticism is the absence of any mention of the Spaniard Michael Servetus one of Harvey's predecessors and the first to describe the pulmonary circulation.