Biography of 17th century physician scoops UK award

LONDON Wed Nov 7, 2012 3:38pm EST

LONDON (Reuters) - "Circulation", a biography of the 17th century English physician William Harvey who accurately described how blood circulates through the human body, has won the Wellcome Trust Book Prize which celebrates medicine in literature.

Also on the shortlist for the 25,000 pound ($40,000) prize were novelists Rose Tremain ("Merivel: A Man of his Time") and Peter James ("Perfect People") as well as academics and debut authors.

Broadcaster Mark Lawson, who chaired a panel of judges deciding the winner, said Circulation "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."

Author Thomas Wright, whose two previous works examined the life and readings of Oscar Wilde, considered Harvey's achievements as almost on a par with Darwin's theory of evolution and Newton's theory of gravity.

Harvey, physician to King Charles I, produced a slim tome in 1628 examining the heart and blood circulation called "De Motu Cordis" which became one of the most influential works in the history of western science.

"Harvey's obsessive quest to understand the movement of the blood overturned beliefs held by anatomists and physicians since Roman times," publishers Random House said of the book.

"His circulation theory was as controversial in its day as Copernicus' idea that the earth revolved around the sun."

Set in Renaissance London, the biography features a cast of characters including Francis Bacon, England's Lord Chancellor and a scientist in his own right, poet and preacher John Donne and the king, Harvey's "beloved" patron.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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