Publication Date: 07/04/2022 ISBN: 9780861542451 Category:

The Empress and the English Doctor

Lucy Ward

Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Publication Date: 07/04/2022 ISBN: 9780861542451 Category:





Shortlisted for the Pushkin House Book Prize 2022

‘Sparkling history…with a fairytale atmosphere of sleigh rides, royal palaces and heroic risk-taking’ The Times

A killer virus…an all-powerful Empress…an encounter cloaked in secrecy…the astonishing true story.

Within living memory, smallpox was a dreaded disease. Over human history it has killed untold millions. Back in the eighteenth century, as epidemics swept Europe, the first rumours emerged of an effective treatment: a mysterious method called inoculation.

But a key problem remained: convincing people to accept the preventative remedy, the forerunner of vaccination. Arguments raged over risks and benefits, and public resistance ran high. As smallpox ravaged her empire and threatened her court, Catherine the Great took the momentous decision to summon the Quaker physician Thomas Dimsdale to St Petersburg to carry out a secret mission that would transform both their lives. Lucy Ward expertly unveils the extraordinary story of Enlightenment ideals, female leadership and the fight to promote science over superstition.

‘A rich and wonderfully urgent work of history’ Tristram Hunt

Publisher Review

'Mirroring so many of the vaccination issues of our modern age, as well as those of bodily autonomy, feminism, and power...a must-read.' -- Jojo Moyes 'Timely and engaging... A truly fascinating book that reads like a thriller.' -- Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel laureate and former president of the Royal Society 'An enthralling tale of two remarkable personalities who risked all for the benefit of mankind, and of a struggle between medical science and human instinct that could not be more relevant today.' -- Adam Zamoyski 'A rich and wonderfully urgent work of history which engagingly recounts one of the greatest moments in modern science and public health: a story of Enlightenment conviction, Court intrigue, Anglo-Russian relations, and timeless, personal bravery. An expertly recounted eighteenth-century tale of political leadership and medical progress with obvious insights for today.' -- Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum 'In this fluent and enlightening account of the fight to eradicate the terrifying scourge of smallpox, Ward deftly describes how an English Quaker doctor, Thomas Dimsdale, played a crucial role as a pioneer of the new technique of inoculation... The Empress and the English Doctor is a gripping read and all the more timely and extraordinary for having been written in the midst of the Covid pandemic.' -- Dr Helen Rappaport, bestselling author and historian 'This is a fascinating and meticulously researched book with the excitement of a thriller. It's a remarkable story of female leadership and personal courage. Lucy Ward uses her brilliance as a narrator combined with her insight as a former Lobby journalist to bring to life one of history's most powerful women who really did "follow the science".' -- Harriet Harman MP 'Packed with political intrigue and scientific insight, this is a fascinating narrative revealing how early inoculation pioneers overcame superstition, prejudice and misinformation. Move forward more than two centuries and the parallels with the current Covid-19 pandemic are incredible!' -- Jonathan Ball, professor of virology, University of Nottingham 'A fascinating and beautifully told story about courageous vaccination pioneers.' -- Kate Bingham, Chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce 'This is a wonderful book. It tells the story of the greatest medical discovery before Pasteur, inoculation against smallpox, through the life of a Quaker doctor, Thomas Dimsdale, and his journey to Russia to treat Catherine the Great... It's a long time since I've read a history book as beautifully constructed as this - it's a remarkable achievement.' -- David Wootton, anniversary professor of history, University of York, and author of The Invention of Science 'This is a remarkable and fascinating story of scientific discovery, breakthrough medicine and inspirational female leadership by Catherine the Great. The revelations in this book resonate with today's battle against Covid-19. Lucy Ward has undertaken brilliant detective work... This is a must-read book.' -- Sir Norman Lamb, former UK Health Minister 'Timely... The author demonstrates beautifully how London has historically led on the science with first "inoculation" and then "vaccination" - indeed, longer than most people realise.' -- Professor Dame Sally Davies, former Chief Medical Officer for England 'A tale of multiple and intertwining themes - private and public health, public administration, and the politics of Empires... Although the book is about things that happened over 250 years ago, the hopes and fears of the people facing those difficult choices resonate with our own times.' -- Laurie Bristow, former UK ambassador to the Russian Federation 'Women's role in driving forward key scientific discoveries has too often gone unrecognised. The Empress and the English Doctor honours Catherine the Great's pioneering scientific journey, demonstrating her personal bravery, her exacting insight and her resolve to protect others against smallpox. This thrilling and important story offers an insight into the determination, tenacity and grit needed to work in science, even today!' -- Professor Teresa Lambe, Professor of Vaccinology and Immunology, University of Oxford and co-designer of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine 'Timely and engaging...the unlikely and remarkable story of how an English doctor, Thomas Dimsdale, and Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, showed great personal courage and took serious personal risks to promote inoculation against smallpox using a method that had originated in Asia. The success of these early efforts led directly to the first vaccine by Jenner, and over the next two centuries saved millions of lives that would have been lost to many different diseases, culminating in the recent vaccines against Covid-19. A truly fascinating book that reads like a thriller.' -- Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel laureate and former president of the Royal Society 'A fascinating, deep dive into a neglected topic in the history of vaccines, with many lessons for the prevention of viruses today. Lucy Ward blends history and personality to shed light on a story that has been overlooked in favour of Jenner and his milkmaid.' -- Dr John Tregoning, Reader in Respiratory Infections, Imperial College London

Find this book on the following lists

Book experts at your service

What are you looking for?

A recommendation
Something specific
  • Mr B's Recommendation Station
  • Fill in the three questions below, along with your name and email address, and our book experts will be in touch soon with their personal recommendations

  • I'm after something specific
  • Tell us about the book, author or subject you're looking for, along with your name and email address and our book experts will be in touch as soon as possible