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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.
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on 3 November 2013
William Harvey was a Kentish yeoman's son who was fortunate in that his father decided to invest in his education. After attending grammar school and then Cambridge University Harvey specialised in medicine and travelled to Italy to study in Padua. At the turn of the 16th Century this was the way to go. After graduating Harvey moved to London and quickly established a practice for himself which brought him into the orbit of the Royal Court. However William Harvey is mostly remembered fro his revolutionary ideas about circulation, he was the first to postulate that blood flows around the body and is not constantly made and destroyed. What seems like a perfectly obvious explanation now was outrageous then and the descriptions of experimentation are gory in the extreme.

The difficult that Wright has is producing this tale is that most of the papers held by Harvey have been destroyed, therefore a lot of what he writes about is based on secondary sources and the whole is padded out with 'essays' on more general topics such as Galen versus Versalius. This is a slim volume which covers what it needs to, gives plenty of background and tells a basic story of Harvey but there is not enough for it to be called a biography.
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My early medical school days were focused on the structure and function of the body. Harvey's theory of circulation was up front in terms of the history of blood flow and a classic example of observation and scientific experimentation. Harvey's theories are now steeped in fact. The difficulties he encountered in propagating his work were met by fierce opposition and controversy. The author carefully demonstrates the risks Harvey took in opposing the prevailing beliefs of his time. Fortunately Harvey stuck to his incontrovertible conclusions despite head on conflicts with non-medical theologians and philosophers. The Emperor's doctor Galen surprisingly backed Harvey. History has proven his theories on the circulation of blood to be correct.

Harvey was an ardent Royalist who survived the Civil War. His scientific endeavours must have been difficult during those troubled times. How he avoided conflict is not explained. Harvey is a legendary figure in medicine. He was a true scientist prepared to take on the heart as a functional structure rather than the seat of emotions (look at birthday, valentines day cards) and he was a true genius as brave as he was a scientist. Entertaining, interesting and informative.
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on 13 December 2012
William Harvey was a doctor who, in 1628, published his theory of circulation detailing the workings of the heart and vascular system, much as we know them today. The cover of the book describes this as a 'revolutionary idea' which seems maybe a little far-fetched until you consider the state that the world of medicine was in at that time. Harvey's idea was more than just clever and even more than merely unconventional - it went against ideas that had been almost universally accepted as gospel truth for centuries, since the teachings of Galen in Roman times. Think about the kind of confidence (arrogance?) and innovation that it would take to challenge such widespread scientific beliefs and you will begin to realise that Harvey was the kind of strong and curious character that is really quite interesting to read about.

In the preface, Thomas Wright explains that many personal manuscripts of Harvey's and papers detailing his research have been destroyed over the centuries, victims of political unrest during the English Civil War and also in the Great Fire of London. I worried initially that this wouldn't bode very well for the rest of the book, but Wright does a great job of filling in the blanks to paint a lively portrait of society as a whole in Renaissance-era England. It's about so much more than Harvey himself. I really enjoyed reading about the gory details of Harvey's education in anatomy at a time when medical students were notorious for fighting in the streets and terrorising the town (anyone who has ever stumbled across a medical student pub crawl during Fresher's week might argue that little has changed). It was equally interesting to learn about his studies in natural philosophy and how some of his first supporters included the likes of Descartes. Wright also covers the attitudes of society at that time to issues that still prove controversial today, such as vivisection.

I felt that this was quite an objective account of Harvey that by no means views him through rose-tinted glasses. As someone who doesn't read many memoirs I was struck by the way Wright not only provides a running commentary of a person's life, but places it firmly in context by vividly illustrating the world they lived in.
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on 29 April 2012
The Times accurately described this book as an acute, imaginative work. It follows the story of William Harvey in his quest for acceptance of his 'heretical' and 'revolutionary'theory of ciculation, which he bravely published in 1628. Harvey withstood the fierce scientific dogma of his day which regarded his work as 'crack brained'. He did this through his tireless and spiky personality and in his pursuit of success expected by his yeoman father. Wright captures the 'hott-head' personality driven by his ideas of microcosm and macrocosm. Harvey even had to endure being regarded as a hero of Francis Bacon's mechanistic world of inductive science, whereas his theory was born of ideas and unrestrained enquiry. Wright's vivid accounts of public dissection ( with occasional duels), the philosophical debates of the 17c, and the idea that blood circulated in the body much as God's heavenly bodies orbited the heavens, makes me wish that 'History' could be taught this way. A historian who can write is a rare thing; I couldn't put it down until I had finished it.
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on 3 July 2014
Great book! Recommend to anyone reading up on history of medicine.
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on 29 June 2014
This was bought for my daughter as a Christmas present as she was studying cardiac physiology, very pleased with it too.
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on 8 November 2012
Circulation is a very original biography of both a man and an idea. It is enlightening, nuanced and occasionally very gory! A gripping read.
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on 9 July 2013
Most intriguing book.set in Italy it's a fascinating of early history of medicine. Good to read alongside The Killer of little Shepherds which looks at the beginning of forensic medicine via t he 'Jack The Ripper' who walked through France in early 1820s killing shepherds!
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on 14 November 2012
Harvey is very important,if only because the mere fact of him having the same title as the late Jimmy Savile and supporting autocracy over democracy can blind authors to a long list of abuses.

Many of these are now very well described by Paul Camster,whose ancestors suffered first hand at:

Apocalypse Third Edition

The Gold Tinderbox

Voice Of The Demon

The last of these details Harvey`s being implicated in the slave trade begun by himself and close allies,leading directly to later civil war in the USA,an issue also probed in CRIME&PUNISHMENT

In fact much of Camster`s work describes in detail the way Harvey stole even his best-known `theory` and enabled rape,abuse,looting and Holocaust on an industrial scale not seen again until the Third Reich revived many of his practices.Cleverly whitewashing the most obvious abuses surely only makes the repeat of these more certain?
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