Adventures in Human Being

We have a lifetime’s association with our bodies, but for many of us they remain uncharted territory.

In Adventures in Human Being, Gavin Francis leads the reader on a journey through health and illness, offering insights on everything from the ribbed surface of the brain to the secret workings of the heart and the womb; from the pulse of life at the wrist to the unique engineering of the foot.

Drawing on his own experiences as a doctor and GP, he blends first-hand case studies with reflections on the way the body has been imagined and portrayed over the millennia.

If the body is a foreign country, then to practise medicine is to explore new territory: Francis leads the reader on an adventure through what it means to be human.

Both a user’s guide to the body and a celebration of its elegance, this book will transform the way you think about being alive, whether in sickness or in health. Published in association with the Wellcome Collection.

  • Awarded Non-Fiction Book of the year, 2015
  • Economist Books of the Year 2015
  • Sunday Times Books of the Year 2015
  • Sunday Herald Books of the Year 2015
  • Observer – Science Book of the Year 2015
  • Times – Books of the Year 2015




'A sober and beautiful book about the landscapes of the human body: thought-provoking and eloquent.'

Hilary Mantel

'Wonderful, subtle, unpretentious… I have never read a book like this one and I recommend it wholeheartedly. Reading it, you feel better.'

John Berger

Gavin Francis’s engaging and edifying book Adventures in Human Being breathes life into the study of anatomy by situating it in the larger landscape of human experience, connecting the body to art, literature, music, astronomy, and history. Unlike most physicians whose career encompasses a single discipline, Francis has worked in pediatrics, obstetrics, geriatrics, orthopedics and neurosurgery…It is not a question of whether doctors like Gavin Francis with an artistic and literary sensibility can be proven superior in their clinical acumen compared to those who view the body in strictly scientific terms. But what is certain is that physicians like Francis can make its study more captivating.

Jerome Groopman, The New York Review of Books

Beyond the fine detail and the erudition of his medical investigations, what marks Francis out as a perfect guide to our physical selves is his sensitivity to metaphor, simile and analogy, his deftness with language… That Adventures in Human Being is an astonishing, moving and enchanting book can be explained in part by Francis’s unique range of experience, his erudition and enthusiasm; but his principal virtue might be the humility he brings to his task.'

John Burnside, New Statesman

Francis never strays far from anatomy and the miracle of the normally functioning body. To him, even the large bowel is ‘a magnificent work of art’…his lifelong curiosity about the body animates many of these essays.

Suzanne Koven, The Boston Globe

This sort of book has been done before but not nearly so well… Dr Francis is especially skilled at a kind of muscular poetry of the body… “Adventures in Human Being”, with its deft mix of the clinical and the lyrical, is a triumph of the eloquent brain and the compassionate heart.

John J. Ross, The Wall Street Journal

[a] beautiful exposition of internal geography… Francis blends his experience as a physician with a poet’s gift for observation… Altogether, the book is a rare gift, a redefinition of what popular medical writing can be.

Chicago Tribune

Grand, eloquent stuff, occasionally humorous, frequently moving, and invariably informative… the end result is a thoroughly entertaining, provocative work.

The Observer (Book of the Week)

The writing is spare, but his sense of wonder at the human body is clear… the joy of Mr Francis’s work lies in the fact that although he delights in the body’s physical reality, he takes care not to reduce human experience to that alone.

The Economist

I read this book transfixed… the style is crisp and fast and the human tales irresistible. Clever & strangely beautiful.

The Times (Book of the Week)

so enthralling and well-written that it should win its own clutch of prizes.

The Sunday Times

It is difficult to decide whether Gavin Francis is a travel writer who moonlights as a doctor or a doctor who travels and writes on the side. But if he is as good at slinging pills as he is at writing landscapes - geographical and anatomical - then his patients can count themselves fortunate.

The Irish Times

‘he brings his familiar, graceful style to the operating table, where he observes a neurosurgeon ‘mapping’ the ‘uncharted country’ of a patient’s brain… Years of doctoring clearly haven’t reduced Francis’ sense of wonder about the human body.'

Scottish Review of Books

Fine, subtle and observant… illuminating and arresting.

The Herald

Francis is a doctor by profession, but he’s one of those genuine polymaths who can bring illumination to almost any subject. In this guided tour around the human body he’s on home territory, but his passions for literature, history and, most unusually, geography, ensure that this is no dry-as-dust scientific text.

The Mail on Sunday

‘highly informative, compulsively readable… It promises an intriguing voyage and delivers it in great style. Thoroughly recommended.'

The Daily Express

This is a wonderful book: funny, wise, extremely informative in a quiet way and recognising no boundaries between science and art. Francis has the soul of a poet, and he sees beauty and form where most of us would not dare look.

The Daily Mail