To be alive is to be in perpetual metamorphosis: growing, healing, learning, aging. In Shapeshifters, physician and writer Gavin Francis considers the inevitable changes all of our bodies undergo–such as birth, puberty, and death, but also laughter, sleeping, and healing-and those that only some of our bodies will: like getting a tattoo, experiencing psychosis, suffering anorexia, being pregnant, or undergoing a gender transition. In Francis’s hands, each event becomes an opportunity to explore the meaning of identity and the natures-biological, psychological, and philosophical-of our selves. True to its own subject, Shapeshifters combines Francis’s lyrical imagination and deep knowledge of medicine and the humanities for a life-altering read.

Foreign rights: US: Basic Books; Netherlands: Niewuzijds; Russia: Эксмо; China: CITIC; Japan: Misuzu Shobo;


Hilary Mantel:

“Stylish and exhilarating… from a wide-ranging mind and a profound humanity. Each piece is a pleasure to read, and in sum they are inspiring.”

Henry Marsh:

“A wonderful series of meditations – clinical, anthropological, literary and deeply humane – on his patients and their illnesses.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee:

“Provocative and important… Francis ranges broadly to describe altered human states and selves. He delves into medical history, and, with equal ease, into medical case studies, to reveal how humans are capable of changing our bodies and minds.”

Annie Dillard:

“Wonderful, with a deep feeling for language. A writer-physician who sees the drama and beauty in human life.”


“Into this culture of bodily fluidity - and anxiety - comes this timely, thought-provoking, and eloquent book… brimming both with warmth and insight, Francis puts himself among the ranks of physicians with fine pens, including Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande, who, for all their learning, retain a deep humility.”

Times, Book of the Week

“Such is the breadth of Francis’s interests that Shapeshifters is never less than intellectually energetic… in each case, behind each array of presenting symptoms, there is a whole world of feeling and a style of understanding.”


“The book feels like a cabinet of curiosities… His patients, above all, are beautifully observed. It is a delight just to wander through the museum.”

Sunday Times

“This is a fascinating account, full of detail that one would otherwise not know, and full of openness in terms of the difficulties, triumphs, disasters and glories of a career in medicine… what comes across, luminously, is the human”

Scotland on Sunday

“Shapeshifters is beautifully written as well as extremely absorbing. I came away from it with a renewed appreciation for the wonders of the human body.”

Sunday Herald

“whether he’s writing about setting the bones of an eight-year-old boy in the Gambia, or counselling a man who’s abusing anabolic steroids, Dr Francis will leave you marvelling at the physical self you carry around with you every day.”

Sunday Express

“As a family doctor, Gavin Francis has observed bodies at all stages, from delivering babies to being terminally ill. In Shapeshifters he has been guided both by medical texts and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Francis finds the transformations of the body during life as fabulous as those in the Roman poet’s fables, which describe statues brought to life and humans turned into streams.”

New Scientist

“Gavin Francis makes being a doctor sound like the best job in the world… The 24 essays in this collection - on topics ranging from puberty and death to eunuchs and scalps - all circle the theme of metamorphosis, and shed light on the biases of modern medicine even while celebrating its achievements.”

Village Voice

'The grounding of descriptions of the scientific basis of change in relatable stories of people makes a complicated subject easier to digest. This technique only works if executed well; thankfully, Francis makes it seem effortless and the result is a compelling narrative.'

The Lancet

‘Gavin Francis belongs in the long tradition of doctors who have written about their profession and what it teaches them about the human condition… powerful chapters grapple with the transformations we face as we traverse the biological span of life, from conception to death. There are eloquent descriptions of pregnancy, menopause and old age.’

The Australian

'Shapeshifters is a fantastical story of the marvel of being human. It is confirmation of what doctors are privileged enough to experience first hand on a daily basis.’


There is a sense of enthusiasm and wonder in his writing that is infectious. He is a celebrant of holism. Iona Heath wrote in The Mystery of General Practice that ‘All aspects of human existence are legitimate concerns of the general practitioner’. This book epitomises that sentiment.

British Journal of General Practice