The Heart


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James Peto

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A vivid picture of the human heart and its place in culture and medicine

Published upon the opening of the Wellcome Collection, the Wellcome Trust's new public venue in London, this book examines the history of our understanding of the human heart. Encompassing material from Henry Wellcome's own collections in the Wellcome Library and images and artifacts from private and public archives across the world, the book provides a richly illustrated account of changes in our perception of what the heart does and what it means.

The book first explores the symbolic significance of the heart in ancient Egypt, China, India, and Greece; its role in Aztec ceremony; and its place in the medieval world. It then considers the centrality of the heart in Christianity and other religions and the literary and artistic views of the heart as the seat of the soul and emotions.

The growth of anatomical knowledge of the heart and its treatment through developing technology is fundamental to the volume. Fifteenth-century drawings by Leonardo da Vinci reveal his extraordinary early insight into the heart’s mechanisms, and twentieth-century medical breakthroughs prompt questions about ownership of the heart and the source of life itself. With testimony from surgeons and patients, the book highlights developments in cardiac surgery and considers future alternatives involving gene therapy, stem cell options, and micro-surgery.

Published with The Wellcome Trust

James Peto has worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and at the Design Museum, Science Museum, and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. He is curator of the Wellcome Collection’s 2007 exhibition, The Heart.

"In an age when research is increasingly sophisticated, and often seemingly inaccessible, an intelligent impression of the cultural and social implications of these marvellous achievements is uplifting and most uniquely welcome." - Houman Ashrafian, Lancet

"This elegantly designed and richly illustrated book is a delight to the eye and the brain. It traces the evolution of the religious, literary, psychological, anatomic, functional, and artistic views of what the heart is, what it does, and what it means. . . . The text is clearly written, academically grounded, and intellectually stimulating. . . . This is a jewel of a book, and a rewarding read for specialists and lay readers alike. Highly recommended."—Choice

"This sumptuously illustrated book reflects new approaches to the body that reject, on the one hand, the privilege that in the past was accorded to high art, and on the other, the authority that science now commands. The pages of The Heart are a level cultural playing field. . . . The contributors to this book all wear their erudition lightly. One of the messages of the book is that art and science have had a richly intertwined history, and that both have been shaped by conceptions in the culture at large. . . . I can wholeheartedly recommend this book."—David C. Lomas, New England Journal of Medicine

"Compellingly readable and imaginatively illustrated."—George Featherling, Seven Oaks

Received First Prize in the popular medicine category for the 2008 Medical Book Awards sponsored by the British Medical Association.
ISBN: 9780300125108
Publication Date: September 28, 2007
Publishing Partner: Published with The Wellcome Trust
272 pages, 234 x 189
50 b/w + 70 color illus.