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 the universities of Cambridge and London. 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 / Museum (now, sadly, defunct) in Brooklyn in 2013. These days I teach the history of disease, the history of evolutionary thought, and the history of the apocalypse on the Pembroke-Kings Programme in Cambridge and the Department of Science and Technology Studies at UCL.
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 Guardian, Will 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.
My writing has appeared in many places, from the London Review of Books and the Lancet to Strange Attractor, 3:AM Magazine, Fun House and the Natural Death Handbook, and I’ve made many appearances on TV and radio around the world. I also lead an acclaimed series of guided walks around the cultural history of health, disease and medicine in London.
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.
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’. I’m an honorary Phi Delta Epsilon and an honorary founder member of the Morbid Anatomy Museum. In 2016 I received the Faculty Medal of the Society of Apothecaries for my work on the history of medicine, and in 2015 I got into Who’s Who.