About me

My first history book, Medical London, was a Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 in 2008. Writing in the GuardianWill Self called my The Sick Rose ‘superbly erudite and lucid’. My cultural history of gin has been a slow-burn success – Nicholas Lezard made the paperback edition his Guardian choice, at least one major UK gin company issues a copy to all new employees, and overseas readers can enjoy gorgeous US and Russian editions. Crucial Interventions, the follow-up to The Sick Rose, came out in 2015, and The Smile Stealers in 2017.

Wherever We Are When We Come To The End, my second poetry book, will be published by Valley Press on 20 May. Seahouses, my first collection, came out in 2015. The title sequence received the 2006 Promis Prize for poetry, and the collection was shortlisted in the 2013 Poetry Business competition, judged by Simon Armitage. I also founded and ran the highly successful ‘Blood Lines’ poetry group at Wellcome Collection.

My writing has appeared in many places, from the London Review of Books and the Lancet to Strange Attractor3:AM Magazine, Fun House and the Natural Death Handbook, and I’ve made many appearances on TV and radio around the world – most of which are detailed on my IMDb page. From 2008 to 2019 I wrote reviews, essays, and ‘Case Histories’, a monthly column on the history of disease, for the Lancet.

I studied medicine in London before I became a historian, and after a PhD in the history of medicine at UCL I went on to academic posts at Cambridge and UCL. In 2011 I received one of the first Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellowships for my work on public engagement in the history of medicine, and I was Scholar in Residence at the Morbid Anatomy Library in Brooklyn in 2013. In 2015-17 I was a member of the Wellcome Trust-funded Corpse Project, exploring ways of laying the dead to rest that help the living and the Earth. In 2018 I was curatorial consultant to ‘Teeth’, a Wellcome Collection exhibition inspired by The Smile Stealers.

I’m an honorary Phi Delta Epsilon and an honorary founder member of the Morbid Anatomy Museum (now, sadly, defunct). I was chair of judges for the 2018 McCarthy Award for History of Medicine Research, given by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and one of the judges for the inaugural Wellcome Trust Book Prize in 2009. In 2016 I received the Faculty Medal of the Society of Apothecaries for my work on the history of medicine, and since 2015 I’ve been included in Who’s Who.