The Circle of Willis and the beginning of neuroanatomy

I love books about the history of science.

One of the very best I’ve ever read is called The Soul Made Flesh:
the discovery of the brain — — and how it changed the world.
The book is written by Carl Zimmer and was published in 2004.

The book discusses the Circle of Willis, the elegant interconnecting arteries
at the base of the brain that ensure the brain’s blood supply.

Every doctor and nurse is familiar with the Circle of Willis but I doubt many know the story of the discoverer of the circle. It and the anatomy of the brain were first clearly described by Thomas Willis in his book The Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves, published in 1664.

In The Soul Made Flesh, the story of the founding of neurology and neuroanatomy is told
through the life of Thomas Willis,an English physician who was born in 1621 and died in 1675. His life covered some of the most tumultuous English history: the execution of Charles I, the protectorate of Cromwell, the restoration of Charles II, and the subsequent Glorious Revolution.

In the book we meet some of the giants of the century. We’re introduced to William Harvey, the physician who discovered the circulation of the blood, perhaps the greatest discovery in medicine. Dr. Harvey was born in 1578 and died in 1657.

Other great scientists than Willis knew and worked with include Robert Hook and Robert Boyle.

The beautiful illustrations in Dr. Willis ‘ book were drawn by Christopher Wren, the great architect. And it was Christopher Wren who drew the beautiful pictures in Robert Hooks book, Micrographia. And it was Micrographia that beautifully showed the possibilities of the new microscope.

Anyone who’s interested in the history of medicine, the history of science, or England in the seventeenth century will enjoy The Soul Made Flesh.

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