Press release

‘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(opens in a new tab).

About Mark Lawson

Mark Lawson is a journalist, broadcaster and author. He presents BBC Radio 4's arts magazine programme, 'Front Row', is a columnist for the 'Guardian' and is also the theatre critic of 'The Tablet'.

Mark studied English at University College London and has been a freelance contributor to numerous publications since 1984. In the mid-90s he presented 'The Late Show' on BBC2 and also presented 'The Late Review'. Since 2006, he has hosted a number of in-depth, one-to-one interviews for BBC Four, entitled 'Mark Lawson Talks to'.

Mark has published four works of fiction: 'Bloody Margaret', 'Idlewild', 'Going Out Live' and 'Enough is Enough'. He has written several radio plays for the BBC including 'The Third Soldier Holds His Thighs' and 'The Man Who Had 10,000 Women'. He has also written episodes of the television version of the BBC sitcom 'Absolute Power' and a television play, 'The Vision Thing'.

He has twice been voted TV critic of the Year and has won numerous awards for arts journalism.

Dr Brooke Magnanti

Brooke Magnanti is a research scientist, blogger and author. Brooke received a BSc from Florida State University in 1996, where she studied in the Anthropology and Mathematics departments. She later studied for a Master's in genetic epidemiology at the University of Sheffield in England and earned a PhD in the Forensic Pathology department there. She has worked in forensic science, epidemiology, chemoinformatics and cancer research.

Brooke is the author of the bestselling 'Belle de Jour' series of books, which were adapted into the hit ITV show 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl'. She was formerly a columnist for the 'Sunday Telegraph' and 'Erotic Review', as well as contributing pieces to the 'Guardian', 'Big Issue', and 'Town'. Her latest book, 'The Sex Myth', has just been published.

Henry Thomas Marsh

Henry Thomas Marsh is a leading British neurosurgeon. He is now the senior consultant neurosurgeon at the Atkinson Morley Wing at St George's Hospital, one of the country's largest specialist brain surgery units.

He specialises in operating on the brain under local anaesthetic and was the subject of a major BBC documentary 'Your Life in Their Hands', which won the Royal Television Society Gold Medal. He has been working with neurosurgeons in the former Soviet Union, mainly in Ukraine with mentee neurosurgeon Igor Petrovich, since 1992; his work there was the subject of the BBC Storyville film 'The English Surgeon'.

Sue Matthias

Sue Matthias was appointed editor of the 'Financial Times Weekend Magazine' in June 2010. She launched the new-look version of the magazine, which was nominated for Supplement of the Year in the British Press Awards 2011. Sue was previously assistant editor of the 'Independent on Sunday'. Some of her other roles include deputy editor of the 'New Statesman' and acting editor of the 'Guardian Weekend Magazine'. She is a member of the Advisory Board of Women in Journalism and the Editorial Advisory Board of the British Journalism Review.

Ruth Padel

Ruth is a poet, writer and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Zoological Society of London. Her awards include first prize in the UK National Poetry Competition, the Cholmondeley Award from The Society of Authors, an Arts Council of England Writers' Award, and a British Council Darwin Now Research Award for her novel, 'Where the Serpent Lives'.

She has published eight poetry collections, a novel, and eight works of non-fiction, including several much-loved books on reading poetry. She is a well-known radio broadcaster and recently presented 'Poetry Workshop', a landmark BBC 4 series of programmes on writing poems. She is also the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.