Join us for dinner on the 31st May and meet Gareth, who's launching his latest book, Unravelling the Double Helix.
Gareth Williams MD ScD FRCP FRCPE
Emeritus Professor of Medicine
Honorary Senior Research Fellow in English, University of Bristol
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 with Honours in Medicine and Pharmacology in 1977. After training in London and Geneva, I moved to Liverpool where I built up an internationally recognised research group in diabetes and obesity and became a Professor of Medicine. During my research career, I produced 200 scientific papers and wrote or edited over 20 medical books, including the prize-winning Textbook of Diabetes. I have an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Angers, for contributions to medical research and education.
From 2003-8, I was Dean of Medicine at the University of Bristol, where I still teach on the Medical Humanities and Medical courses. I now write books for the general reader about the history of medicine and science. The first, the product of a sabbatical year in 2009, was Angel of Death: the story of smallpox(shortlisted for the Wellcome Medical Book Prize 2010). This was followed by Paralysed with Fear: the story of polio(2013) and A Monstrous Commotion: the mysteries of Loch Ness(2015). My next book, Unravelling the Double Helix: the lost heroes of DNA, will be published in the UK by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in April 2019, and by Pegasus (USA) in the autumn.
I’ve served as President of the Anglo-French Medical Society, Vice-President of the European Society for Clinical Investigation, and Chair of the Trustees of the Edward Jenner Museum. I’m proud to be an Ambassador of the British Polio Fellowship, which supports those living with the legacy of this cruel disease. My main outside interests are music and natural history. I’m a keen flautist and saxophonist, playing in orchestras, a wind quintet and various jazz groups.
Critical acclaim for books by Gareth Williams
Angel of Death: the story of smallpox
‘Wonderfully researched, vividly written ... medical history at its absolute best.’
Michael Neve, Wellcome Trust Book Prize panellist, 2010
‘Williams recounts the history of smallpox in a breezy, accessible style. And what a history it is.’
Clive Anderson, New Scientist Big Read 2010
‘An engaging narrative ... medical history is interwoven with social history.’
BBC History Magazine, 2010
‘Lively prose and unpatronising insight into past medical dilemmas.’
The Lancet, 2010
‘Williams writes with a great command of the English language ... an excellent holiday read.’
Royal College of Physicians, 2010
‘A meticulously researched story with pace and flair … Both the history and the science are terrific.’
Medical Journalists Association Open Book Award, 2011
Paralysed with Fear: the story of polio
‘His splendid book, riverting from beginning to end, is a model of its kind … a consistently fascinating account.’
‘His book should be read by anyone interested in science, medicine and public health … An incredible story told by a great storyteller.’
‘Gareth Williams negotiates the hairpin bends of polio’s history with aplomb … A detailed, science-rich account.’
‘A wonderful biography of polio.’
BBC History Magazine
‘Strongest of all is Williams’ highly entertaining account of the poisonous rivalry between scientists … He reminds us that even medical heroes can be as jealous and petty as the rest of us.’
A Monstrous Commotion: the mysteries of Loch Ness
‘Lively and entertaining … Surely the best and sanest recent book on the Loch Ness Monster: readable, informative and fully referenced.’
‘Fluent, entertaining … the first Nessie book to adopt a non-partisan approach, giving erqual space to believers and sceptics.’
‘Sheds intriguing light on the origins of our obsession ... Williams does a fine
job of weaving all these threads into a coherent narrative … The final
revelation is a good one.’
‘Entertaining … Gareth Williams is the first to present a non-partisan
account of events at the loch … He brings a dry wit and a scientist’s
illuminating perspective … No one has written better about the great Nature
debacle, when that prestigious magazine lent its authority to a sensational
underwater photograph of the Monster.’
Times Literary Supplement
Adrian Turpin, Wigtown Book Festival
Public speaking and lectures
I’ve always enjoyed public speaking, whether in village halls, bookshops, summer schools for students or international conferences, or as Public Orator at Bristol University. Feedback indicates that audiences are happy to listen.
My books have taken me to Hay, Edinburgh, Buxton, Wigtown and other festivals, and to major historical and scientific meetings in the UK and overseas. The latter have included two named lectures (Milroy and FitzPatrick) at the Royal College of Physicians in London; the Charter Lecture of the Royal Society of Biology; the British, Scottish and Welsh Societies for the History of Medicine; the Institute of Physics; and the prestigious lecture series at Gresham College (London) and Johns Hopkins (Baltimore). Popular titles of talks include: ‘The man who changed the face of the world’, ‘Edward Jenner: saint or sinner?’, ‘The apprentice and his sorcerer: Edward Jenner and John Hunter’, ‘Vaccination: blessing and curse’, ‘Heroes and villains: the story of polio’ and ‘The Monster that never was – or was it?’
I’ve been interviewed many times about my books on radio, notably Radio 4’s Today and PMprogrammes. I’ve also appeared in, and acted as consultant for, several television programmes, including prime-time BBC documentaries: The Life of Mary Berry, The Battle against Polio(presented by Stephanie Flanders), The Georgians(with Lucy Worsley), and the award-winning Dr. Jenner’s Marvellous Medicine. Currently, I’m working with Emmy award winner Rupert Barker (NBC) on Sir Peter’s Plesiosaur, a feature-length documentary about the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster.
Here are links to brief videos, in which I talk about two of my books:
- Unravelling the Double Helix: https://youtu.be/ncUOzJmxzuM