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What are you reading, Mr. Lewin?

Neurobiologist Gary Lewin heads the Molecular Physiology of Somatosensory Perception research group. His reading recommendation takes us into the world of the Tudor statesman Thomas Cromwell.

Gary Lewin

I do not read anywhere near enough. Advancing age and the internet have curtailed my once voracious reading habit. But this summer I recently completed “The Mirror and the Light” by Hillary Mantel. This is the final book in the trilogy which starts with the superb “Wolf Hall”. The novelist and the main protagonist of the novels, Thomas Cromwell, are both fascinating subjects. Thomas Cromwell was a butcher’s boy who rose by his own intellect and hard work to be the most powerful man in Tudor England. He was the chief minister to the psychopathic King Henry VIII who famously had six wives, one of whom he had killed. The novels probe the nature of monarchical power and the way that religion was used to justify everything including pillage and murder, all enabled by Thomas Cromwell. The novels are a wonderful psychological exploration of this complex man who had both good and bad motives.

Hillary Mantel sadly passed away in September this year at the age of 70. Hillary Mantel studied in Sheffield, like myself. What I find especially astonishing about Hillary Mantel is that she managed to write amazing prose while for most of her life suffering untreatable chronic uterus pain (Endometriosis a very common and not well treated syndrome). My own interest in the biology of pain as well as my personal experience of pain makes me wonder how this person could have achieved so much with her condition. I am sure Hillary Mantel would have produced more wonderful novels if she had had access to better analgesics than what are currently available. Finding new and better analgesics is something that I think is very much within reach. Reducing suffering also frees talent to do extraordinary things.

Hilary Mantel: The Mirror and the Light. (Wolf Hall Trilogy, Part 3)