‘Circulation’ by Thomas Wright wins the 2012 Wellcome Trust Book Prize

Thomas Wright has been announced as the winner of the £25 000 Wellcome Trust Book Prize for ‘Circulation’, his biography of William Harvey.

This unique prize is open to outstanding works of fiction and non-fiction on the theme of health and medicine. It celebrates books that explore ideas relating to this theme and aims to stimulate interest, excitement and debate about medicine and literature, reaching audiences not normally engaged with medical science.

Set in the beating heart of late Renaissance London, this vivid and visceral book charts Harvey's obsessive quest to understand the movement of the blood, overturning beliefs held by anatomists and physicians since Roman times and causing controversy equal to that caused by Copernicus and his idea that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

The book features vivid descriptions of Harvey's renowned performances during public dissections and vivisections as part of his mission to prove his theory. It also includes a dramatic cast of historical characters, including Francis Bacon, England's Lord Chancellor and a recalcitrant patient of Harvey's; John Donne, a poet and preacher fascinated with anatomy and the human heart; and King Charles I, Harvey's beloved patron and witness to many of his experiments.

Mark Lawson, Chair of the judging panel, comments: "The judging panel includes representatives of literature and of medicine and our hope was to find a work that met the toughest judgements in both disciplines. 'Circulation' by Thomas Wright is that book.

"A portrait of early medical experimentation but with strong resonances for contemporary research, it also brings innovation to the often-conventional genre of biography: dividing the chronology of William Harvey's life with thematic and historical essays. The result is a book that combines scholarly science with such narrative excitement that it will be a great surprise if we do not eventually see 'Circulation: The Movie'. The book itself deserves the widest possible circulation."

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, adds: "'Circulation' is a beautifully written portrait of William Harvey, which will open his pioneering research to new audiences. Thomas Wright's book captures a moment in the history of modern medicine that excites, entertains and educates."

Thomas Wright is a freelance writer and researcher who lives in London and Genoa. Wright was educated at Saint Thomas More RC School, Bedford, and Magdalen College, Oxford.

His first book, 'Table Talk of Oscar Wilde', was chosen by Simon Callow as one of his books of the year. He proclaimed it "the closest we'll ever get to hearing the great man talk". This was followed by 'Oscar's Books'. Published by Chatto in September 2008, it explores the personality of Oscar Wilde through his reading. 'Circulation' is his third book.

Mark Lawson was joined on the judging panel by Dr Brooke Magnanti, research scientist, blogger and author; Henry Thomas Marsh, a leading British neurosurgeon and pioneer of neurosurgical advances; Sue Matthias, editor of the 'Financial Times Weekend Magazine'; and Ruth Padel, a poet, writer and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Zoological Society of London.

The shortlisted books were:

  • John Coates, 'The Hour Between Dog and Wolf'
  • Nick Coleman, 'The Train in the Night'
  • Mohammed Hanif, 'Our Lady of Alice Bhatti'
  • Peter James, 'Perfect People'
  • Rose Tremain, 'Merivel: A Man of his Time'
  • Thomas Wright, 'Circulation'

To find out more about the Prize, please visit the Wellcome Trust Book Prize website.