in a nutshell


I grew up in Belfast, where I was taught English (and given a love of writing) by the poet Michael Longley.  I won an Open Scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge and qualified as a doctor with Honours in 1977. After training in London and Geneva, I moved to Liverpool and built up an internationally renowned research group in diabetes and obesity. Along the way, I wrote 200 scientific papers and authored or edited over 20 medical books, including the prize-winning Textbook of Diabetes.


From 2003-8, I was Dean of Medicine at the University of Bristol, where I still teach on the Medical Humanities and Medicine courses. I now write books for the general reader about the history of medicine and science: Angel of Death: the story of smallpox (2010; shortlisted for the Wellcome Medical Book Prize); Paralysed with Fear: the story of polio (2013); A Monstrous Commotion: the mysteries of Loch Ness (2015); and Unravelling the Double Helix: the lost heroes of DNA (2019).


I’ve served as President of the Anglo-French Medical Society and Chair of the Trustees of the Edward Jenner Museum, and am proud to be an Ambassador of the British Polio Fellowship. I play the flute and saxophone in orchestras, a wind quintet and various jazz groups.  


Caroline and I married in 1983; our children are Tim and Joanna. We live on an old cider orchard in rural Gloucestershire, in a village too small to have a pub or a shop.