About me

My first book, Medical London, City of Diseases, City of Cures, was a Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 in 2008. Writing in the GuardianWill Self called my The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration ‘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: An Illustrated Treatise on the Principles & Practice of Nineteenth-Century Medicine, the follow-up to The Sick Rose, came out in 2017, and The Smile Stealers: The Fine & Foul Art of Dentistry is out now. I was curatorial consultant to ‘Teeth’, a Wellcome Collection exhibition inspired by The Smile Stealers.

Seahouses, my first poetry collection, is out now with Valley Press. 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 second collection is going to press shortly; more on this soon.

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. I write ‘Case Histories’, a monthly column on the history of disease, for the Lancet. 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.

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. 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. According to Snipe London I’m ‘as poised and as charming an academic as ever donned a shabby brown jacket … [who] possesses the timeless English affability which is rarely found these days outside universities, the theatre, and the upper reaches of the medical profession’.